Who is Malcolm Turnbull and Can He Win?

Who is he?

Of all the candidates running in the election, Malcolm Turnbull is probably the most well-known thanks to his position as the current Prime Minister. This means that, unlike some of the other candidates, he has a past record in power which he can be judged on. His party has been in government since the last election in 2013 and Turnbull has led the country since last September, after he successfully toppled fellow party member and former leader Tony Abbott.

Turnbull was educated at the University of Sydney, and also attained a post graduate degree at the University of Oxford in the UK. While in England, he married his wife Lucy who would later become the Mayor of Sydney. Before becoming a politician he worked as a lawyer, as well as holding various jobs in finance.

He failed to win first campaign to become an MP but he was successful in 2003 being elected to the seat of Wentworth in Sydney. During this stage of his career he was heavily involved in the Australian republican movement. He unsuccessfully ran for leadership of the Liberal party in 2008, however thanks to a leadership spill later that year, he lead the party briefly before being ousted himself in 2009 by Tony Abbott. Today, he is the second richest Member of Parliament, and is estimated to have a net worth of around A$200 Million.


What are his policies?

Turnbull is the Liberal party candidate, and his party is the more conservative out of the two main parties – both of which occupy the political centre ground. The liberal party is currently in power in coalition with the National party – a party designed to represent the interests of Australia’s rural population – and so, while being the dominant partner, to a certain extent Liberal policies are created by consensus between the two parties.

The Liberal party generally advocates economical liberalism and emphasises free trade, as well as trying to limit restrictions on business and corporations. This is often coupled with a conservative social policy as former Prime Minister Abbott’s firm stance on gay marriage illustrates.

There are however, different schools of political thought with some members being more conservative than others. These different factions came to a head with Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership challenge, which was based on the claim that he was more socially moderate than Abbott.

After eight months in power however, critics argue that these differences are overstated – with Turnbull largely continuing the work that Abbott had started. His government’s environmental policy for example, is almost identical to Abbott’s and he aims to meet the same emission targets as the previous Prime Minister.

Another important area that has largely been left unchanged is international relations. Turnbull has continued Abbott’s military commitments in the Middle East and has finished trade deals started by the Abbott government with China and India, as well as the overseeing the completion of Australia’s ratification of the TPP.

Turnbull did however postpone Abbott’s plan to further deregulate universities and, although the projected referendum on same sex marriage was Abbott’s idea, Turnbull’s reasoning for upholding this promise is different. Turnbull is in favour of reform whereas his predecessor hoped a popular vote against allowing same sex marriage would end the discussion on the issue.

Turnbull’s record to date then does not provide much evidence about what he stands for – and what a second Turnbull government would look like.

It is possible that a government formed from a successful election would reveal more about his beliefs, but it is unclear what direction he would take. In recent weeks he has emphasised the importance of checking government spending and attacked Labor’s policies on education and health as financially unsustainable.

It seems likely therefore, that a Turnbull government would see less spending on social services – and potentially lower taxes for big business – coupled with willingness to make moderate social reforms. It remains to be seen however, what exactly he would do if elected.


Can he win?

As the representative of one of the big two parties of Australian politics, Turnbull has a good chance of retaining his position as Prime Minister. The last time the government was not formed by either the Liberal or Labor parties was in 1940, so it is likely that the next Prime Minister will come from one of the two.

With five weeks to go until the election, the race is close. According to opinion polls, Labor have been making gains across Australia and Turnbull’s personal approval rating has dropped by 18 points since Christmas – to a score that is lower than Abbott’s was when Turnbull launched his leadership challenge citing public dissatisfaction. Despite this, the Liberal party still currently holds a slight lead in the polls suggesting that, unless there are any major developments in the next few weeks, Turnbull may well extend his time in office. With the contest being so tight however, he cannot allow his popularity to fall any lower.


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Can Malcolm Turnbull win?

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Original illustration by Carla Uriarte

Max Serjeant is a journalist and photographer from the uk but based in Australia. He is particularly interested in politics, travel writing and Latin America. More of his work can be found at www.maxserjeant.com

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