Turnbull retires after six years of political failure
Malcolm Turnbull is a classical political shooting star, blessed with intellect and appeal, but devoid of political skills including the ability to endure the hard times.
John Howard, Australia's second longest serving prime minister, was someone for whom politics was both a profession and an obsession.
Howard's success as prime minister was won after a period of failure and frustration, starting with disputes he had with then prime minister Malcolm Fraser over economic policy in the 1980s, and extending through to the Liberal party's dark days in opposition during the time Labor's Bob Hawke was prime minister.
Whatever one thinks of the Howard Government's policy legacy, all observers of Australian politics would have to agree that endurance and patience were two qualities Mr Howard had in abundance and that these ultimately helped him realise his political ambitions.
Howard was one type of aspiring leader. Malcolm Turnbull, who announced his intention to retire from politics at the next federal election, was of a very different type. Malcolm Turnbull was a classical political shooting star: a prominent figure clearly blessed with intellect and appeal but devoid of a range of political skills including the ability to endure the hard times.
Turnbull leaped to prominence during the republic debate in 1999 (a campaign he was to lose) and then returned to the political fray when, in 2004, he was elected as the Liberal member for Wentworth.
After a short stint on the back bench (where he drove the then treasurer Peter Costello mad by publishing one set of proposed tax reforms after another), John Howard displayed another of his political skills and brought Turnbull in to the cabinet as Environment minister in 2007.
The coalition lost the subsequent election, and Turnbull was able to win leadership of the Liberal opposition in September 2008.
Fifteen months later he was deposed as leader amidst internal rancour over his proposal to support the Rudd Government's climate change legislation.
In 2010 he announced his intention to retire.
So, in the wash-up, Turnbull was in parliament for a little over six year, most of its as a minister and some of it as a party leader.
This has to be some sort of political speed record, the drama of which tends to overshadow the fact that he only ever contested two federal elections. John Howard, by contrast, served in the parliament for 33 years and faced 15 elections.
Turnbull might have given the impression that he had been around for some time, although this was due more to the role he had played in public life in realms other than party politics before he secured pre-selection for Wentworth.
On the basis of his rather short period in office, it has to be concluded that Turnbull didn't achieve very much in his career as a politician.
Rather like his failure as leader of the republic debate, Turnbull was unable to take his party colleagues with him as he set about trying to rejuvenate and reorient the Liberal party after the 2007 election bought the Howard era to an end.
And, rather like his abandonment of the republican cause after its defeat in the 1999 referendum, Turnbull clearly had no desire to carry on this important task on behalf of the party once the leadership was lost.
Where Howard tended to see defeats as temporary set-backs that he would try to overcome, Turnbull has shown us a track record for giving up as the going gets tough.
The thing is, the Liberal leadership, and maybe even the prime ministership, could have been there for the taking for Turnbull were he to have Howard's political qualities.
The Abbott leadership will surely collapse if the next federal election results in defeat and with it the influence of the party's hard-line right wingers would have dissipated. The times would have suited Turnbull's prime ministerial aspirations.
What we learn from the Turnbull experience is that having deep pockets and a reputation for being one of the best and the brightest is not enough to succeed in politics.
Consequently, Turnbull will take his leave of the parliamentary Liberal party, leaving his marginal seat of Wentworth vulnerable to a Labor challenge and his party devoid of a brilliant alternative as leader.
Dr Economou is a senior lecturer in Politics at Monash University.
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