Challenging the Leader

I will apply the ideas in George Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language to the leadership challenge speech of our new prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull.

Thank you very much. A little while ago I met with the Prime Minister and advised him that I would be challenging him for the leadership of the Liberal Party, and I asked him to arrange or facilitate a meeting of the party room to enable a leadership ballot to be held. Of course, I’ve also resigned as Communications Minister.
The first thing the Orwell pen would scratch out of Malcolm Turnbull speech is ‘or facilitate’. He has already made it clear that he is going to arrange a meeting. Surely the former Communications Minister can do better.

Now this is not a decision that anyone could take lightly. I have consulted with many, many colleagues, many Australians, many of our supporters in every walk of life. This course of action has been urged on me by many people over a long period of time.
One place where Turnbull uses pretentious diction is ‘consulted with’. He could simply say that he had talked or spoken with his colleagues.

It is clear enough that the Government is not successful in providing the economic leadership that we need. It is not the fault of individual ministers. Ultimately, the Prime Minister has not been capable of providing the economic leadership our nation needs. He has not been capable of providing the economic confidence that business needs. Now we are living as Australians in the most exciting time. The big economic changes that we’re living through here and around the world offer enormous challenges and enormous opportunities. And we need a different style of leadership. We need a style of leadership that explains those challenges and opportunities, explains the challenges and how to seize the opportunities. A style of leadership that respects the people’s intelligence, that explains these complex issues and then sets out the course of action we believe we should take and makes a case for it. We need advocacy, not slogans. Orwell couldn’t have agreed more. We need to respect the intelligence of the Australian people. Turnbull repeats himself here, but he is emphasizing the appeal to people’s intelligence, just as he has already repeated the words economic and leadership. Now if we continue with Mr Abbott as Prime Minister, it is clear enough what will happen. He will cease to be Prime Minister and he’ll be succeeded by Mr Shorten. You only have to see the catastrophically reckless approach of Mr Shorten to the China-Australia free trade agreement. Surely one of the most important foundations of our prosperity, to know that he is utterly unfit to be Prime Minister of this country and yet so he will be if we do not make a change. The one thing that is clear about our current situation is the trajectory. We have lost 30 Newspolls in a row. It is clear that the people have made up their mind about Mr Abbott’s leadership. Now what we also need to remember, and this is a critical thing, is that our party the Liberal Party has the right values. We have a hugely talented team here in the Parliament. Our values of free enterprise, of individual initiative, of freedom; this is what you need to be a successful agile economy in 2015. Old Eric would have had a lot to say about this: “Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White Papers and the speeches of Under-Secretaries (or Prime Ministers) do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech.” {Orwell 2616} We shall see how Turnbull performs here. What we have not succeeded in doing is translating those values into the policies and the ideas that will excite the Australian people and encourage them to believe and understand that we have a vision for their future. We also need a new style of leadership in the way we deal with others whether it is our fellow members of Parliament, whether it is the Australian people. We need to restore traditional Cabinet government. There must be an end to policy on the run and captain’s calls. We need to be truly consultative with colleagues, members of Parliament, senators and the wider public. Interesting how the Abbott government will be remembered for sporting metaphors such as “captain’s call” or the infamous shirt-front. We need an open government, an open government that recognises that there is an enormous sum of wisdom both within our colleagues in this building and, of course, further afield. But above all we have to remember that we have a great example of good Cabinet government. John Howard’s government most of us served in and yet few would say that the Cabinet government of Mr Abbott bears any similarity to the style of Mr Howard. So that’s what we need to go back to. Finally, let me say something about Canning. Now this is an important byelection and I recognise dealing with this issue in the week before the by-election is far from ideal. Turnbull’s mention of the Howard years is here is telling: “In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions, and not a “party line”. Here, Turnbull’s form remains to be seen, to use a racing metaphor. For a silvertail he has certainly had progressive views, a euphemism for radical, on a republic, same-sex marriage and the environment. As for women’s issues, Lucy Turnbull was Sydney’s first female Lord Mayor in 2003-4, like her ancestor Sir Thomas Hughes, so she hardly stays home doing the ironing. We shall see how much our new Prime Minister expresses his private opinions in government, or how much he toes the party line. But regrettably, there are few occasions that are entirely ideal for tough calls and tough decisions like this. The alternative if we were to wait and this issue, these problems were to roll on and on and on is we will get no clear air. The fact is we are maybe 10 months, 11 months away from the next election. Every month lost is a month of lost opportunities. We have to make a change for our country’s sake, for the Government’s sake, for the party’s sake. From a practical point of view a change of leadership would improve our prospects in Canning, although I’m very confident with the outstanding candidate we have that we will be successful. Turnbull is beginning to repeat himself here, and not in a good way, he already mentioned Canning. Near the end of this speech, he is beginning to fall into pretentious diction. He could just as easily have said: I’m sure our great candidate will win. Now you’ll understand… please, you’ll understand that I now have to go and speak to my colleagues. I trust I’ve explained the reasons why I am standing for the leadership of the Liberal Party. Motivated by a commitment to serve the Australian people to ensure that our Liberal values continue to be translated into good government, sound policies, economic confidence creating the jobs and the prosperity of the future. Quod erat demonstrandum, which is as close as I will go to “a mass of Latin words”. Remember this, the only way, the only way we can ensure that we remain a high wage, generous social welfare net, first world society is if we have outstanding economic leadership, if we have strong business confidence. That is what we in the Liberal Party are bound to deliver and it’s what I am committed to deliver if the party room gives me their support as leader of the party. Thank you very much.


Grieg, Alex. “So, who is Lucy Turnbull, the new Prime Minister’s very impressive wife?” Mamamia Women’s Network. 15 September 2015. Retrieved from: Orwell, George. Politics and the English Language. 1946. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume F. New York: WW Norton & Co. Turnbull, Malcolm. “Tony Abbott leadership challenge: transcript of Malcolm Turnbull’s blistering speech.” The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. 14 September 2015. Retrieved from:


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