21st October, 2016
If I told you there was a sitting member of federal parliament who had, over the years, variously referred to the Liberal Party and its members as “political fascists”, “unintelligent”, “cavemen” and “geriatrics”, who would you guess that member might be?
Tanya Plibersek? Sarah Hanson-Young? Adam Bandt? Wrong. It was the current leader of the Liberal Party, and Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull.
Below I have listed 6 examples of Malcolm Turnbull explicitly attacking the whole Liberal Party. There are, of course, countless more examples of him publicly attacking the party’s policies and individual party members, as well as making large donations to the Labor Party, but they are covered elsewhere on this website.
1. Saying Liberal Party members are “geriatrics” & “a joke”
On the 8th of August 1993 the Sunday Age published derogatory comments made by Turnbull, about Liberal Party members. Turnbull is quoted saying:
“The party is largely composed of geriatrics. They’ve become a joke…The ALP is much better educated these days than the Liberals.”
He further added:
“Politics is increasingly about management, people and vision. This is where the Libs fail. Keating has a vision of an independent Australia carving itself an identity.”
2. Saying the Liberal Party is “finished” in 1994
In August of 1994 there was speculation that Turnbull was scheming to form a new party to take seats from the Liberal Party, in order to co-operate with Labor on the republic and shut out conservatives.
The following month, the then Democrats Senator and future Labor MP Cheryl Kernot confirmed that Malcolm Turnbull had discussed with her the possibility of forming a new party together that would split the Liberal Party. Turnbull followed up with a public attack on the party, saying:
“…our political system needs a viable opposition and we don’t have one at the moment…. The Liberal Party, as currently structured, is basically finished at a federal level…. The reason there is not more activity to form a new party is that the business community is basically comfortable with the present [Labor] Government.”
Turnbull’s prediction is proven severely erroneous when, less than 18 months later, the Liberal-National coalition wins a federal election in a landslide, and goes on to govern for nearly 12 years.
3. Saying Liberal Party MPs don’t read, & lack intelligence
On the 29th of July 1993, the Australian Financial Review reported Turnbull making abusive comments about the Liberal Party and threatening to use his Australian Republican Movement to swing elections against them if they maintained their support for constitutional monarchism. Turnbull is quoted saying:
“A lot of the parliamentary Liberal Party suffer from a pretty profound lack of intellectual depth…Most Liberal politicians, even those who’ve been to universities, seem to have avoided reading and absorbing any books – there aren’t even any distinguished lawyers in the parliamentary party.”
Turnbull also praised Labor, saying Keating was showing leadership on the republic issue, and that the republican debate was a choice between “an intelligent and an unintelligent party”. He added that:
“The Liberals are going to go into the next election clutching coronation tea cosies, thinking they’ll win…There is a price for supporting the monarchy, and that’s the price of electoral pain.”
Many people, including Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett, respond saying Turnbull is a Labor partisan who is only interested in ramming through the Keating agenda.
4. Saying the Liberal Party adheres to “caveman conservatism”
In March of 1992, Turnbull and the Keating-Labor government launched a public attack on the Liberal Party and National Party for opposing a republic. In a speech at the National Press Club in Canberra, Turnbull attacked opposition to the republic as “caveman conservatism“, and specifically targeted John Howard.
For Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating though, he had nothing but praise, saying:
“Frankly, I am awestruck by Keating’s courage… Keating is the first mainstream politician to even put his toe into this particular pool, and he should be congratulated for his courage.”
5. Calling the Liberal Party “political fascists”
In October 1975, the Whitlam-Labor government was collapsing, and bringing Australia with it, over the Khemlani loans affair and other pernicious activities. The public wanted Whitlam gone, but he refused to call an election, so the Liberal-National coalition blocked monetary supply using their numbers in the Senate, to try and force an election.
Meanwhile, Malcolm Turnbull was writing for the left-wing newspaper, The Nation Review, and supporting Whitlam. In his October 24th article, he went on the attack against the Liberal Party, saying they:
“… may well be economic conservatives but in their desperate attempt to seize power they have proved themselves to be nothing more than political fascists.” 1
A couple of weeks later Gough Whitlam was sacked by the Governor-General, and an election was immediately called. Labor lost 30 seats, and the Liberal-National coalition won the largest majority in Australian history.
6. Calling the Liberal government anti-progress
Turnbull’s attacks on the Liberal Party extend back to his youth. In July of 1971 the 16-year-old Turnbull attacked the Liberal Party in a piece for the Sydney Grammar School newsletter, The Sydneian.
He said the party was full of “men averse to change of any sort – men whose interests lie solely in the system as it is”. The Liberal approach, he said, was “hardly the material needed for a progressive government, which is what Australia as a nation needs above all else”, as he called for higher taxes on the rich. “Twenty years have seen many changes in Australia and the world, but few in the Liberal Party,” he added.
Steve Kilbey, a school debating champion who battled with Turnbull in 1971, remembers him as a “huge, huge Labor man” and a “staunch lefty“.
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1. Turnbull, M. (1975, Oct 24). The Constitution: A democratic failure. Nation Review, p. 38.