19/06/2014 - 06:56

Malcolm in middle of something new

19/06/2014 - 06:56

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The often-used phrase ‘Malcolm being Malcolm’ may be about the communications minister always going after something novel.

SPOTLIGHT: Malcolm Turnbull remains a controversial figure in Tony Abbott’s conservative cabinet.

Whenever I raise Malcolm Turnbull's name with Liberals, including Liberal MPs, the phrase, "that's Malcolm being Malcolm", is uttered.

I've heard those words so often, I now immediately ask just what "being Malcolm" means?

Strangely, no one has offered a convincing explanation.

Then earlier this month, a Canberra press photographer quite by accident snapped Mr Turnbull and that other multi-millionaire MP, Clive Palmer, with Treasury chief, Martin Parkinson, at a flash Canberra restaurant.

Understandably, the published Turnbull-Palmer photograph sparked considerable theorising, conjecture and criticisms of and by Mr Turnbull.

His two lead critics were Andrew Bolt, presenter of Channel 10's popular Sunday program, The Bolt Report, and Sydney 2GB's shock jock, Allan Jones.

And, as claims and counterclaims about the significance or otherwise unfolded, that inevitable phrase, "Malcolm being Malcolm", resurfaced.

I initially thought, why shouldn't Australia's one-time richest politician, Mr Turnbull (reportedly worth about $200 million) and the one who's pushed him of that high-flying perch, Mr Palmer, (reputedly worth nearly four times that) snack together.

Not so Mr Bolt, Mr Jones and many others.

They viewed this get together, as, at best, a Turnbull indiscretion since Mr Palmer is seen as "a hater" of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who had knocked Mr Turnbull off the Liberal Party's leadership perch.

Mr Turnbull described Mr Bolt's contentions as "demented".

Although agreeing to being interviewed on Mr Jones's program, he would not appear on the following week's Bolt Report.

But repeatedly during this hiatus that odd phrase of "Malcolm being Malcolm" was uttered.

Even though all this is now what media people call ancient history, still not explained is what "being Malcolm" means.

Long-time Quadrant magazine contributor, Geoffrey Luck, contended Mr Turnbull's "fury with Bolt and Jones was because they blew his cover".

"Turnbull has been playing nice for a year, not critical but not enthusiastic either," he wrote in The Australian.

"He played cool while he hid behind the NBN work.

"Turnbull stands for nothing conservative in a conservative party; he remains a constant threat, but hoped nobody noticed."

That may be true.

But that's not what I suspect "Malcolm being Malcolm" means.

If Mr Luck is correct, that's Malcolm being Machiavelli.

"Malcolm being Malcolm" is something different.

To cut to the quick one needs to look earlier than the recent, the Canberra Malcolm.

Whenever I see or hear Mr Turnbull, I find it hard not to recall a book by Christopher Booker, the English columnist and founder and editor of that great fortnightly satirical magazine, Private Eye.

Booker has written a dozen excellent books.

But his first, The Neophiliacs: A Study of the Revolution in English Life in the Fifties and Sixties (1969), remains, for me at least, truly memorable.

Neophilia is defined as "love of or enthusiasm for what is new or novel".

A neophiliac is "a personality type characterised by a strong affinity for novelty.

Here's how Amazon.com's blurb describes Mr Booker's now long-forgotten book: "Around the mid-1950s, on a wave of technological advances, Western civilisation moved into a period of prosperity dwarfing anything that had ever gone before.

"How golden was this age of affluence?

"How did it come to spawn a legend?

"The fifties and sixties are said to have witnessed sexual, artistic and scientific revolutions, the explosion of youth culture, the creation of a classless society.

"The New Aristocrats were pop singers, clothes designers, actors and actresses, film-makers, photographers, artists, writers, models and restaurateurs.

"Booker disentangles fantasy and reality, the ephemeral from the enduring.

"He charts the rise and fall of a collective dream."

Now, neophilia's appeal never vanished in the 1960s; it's very much in evidence, even today.

Remember also, Mr Turnbull was a Rhodes Scholar.

He attended Oxford in the 1970s, when Mr Booker's so well-described mood of neophilia continued to prevail in wealthy and privileged circles.

Now, consider some of the big milestones in Mr Turnbull's public life, after his return to Sydney.

He was a member of Ausflag, which set about discarding Australia's iconic Jack in the hoist, Southern Cross and Federation Star, flag.

Mr Turnbull agitated for something new.

He then popped up wanting to discard our thoroughly acceptable manner of appointment of heads of state – governors-general.

He agitated for something new – a president appointed by party powerbrokers and confirmed by predictable parliamentary voting.

Then along came the global heating hoax. What did Mr Turnbull want?

Like Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and the Greens, he wanted the Liberal Party to back something new called cap-and-trade so the already super-rich of Wall Street could shuffle so-called "carbon certificates" and make trillions of dollars more by simply tapping stockbrokers' computer keyboards.

Whenever there's a hint of something new around, Malcolm Turnbull is there pedalling it.

Consequently, there's no way he could resist not nudging up to Canberra's new-style, bombastic Rolls-Royce-driving politician, Mr Palmer.

Malcolm, stop "being Malcolm".

Stop being a neophiliac.

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