Australia set for different path under new PM Malcolm Turnbull

Mr Malcolm Turnbull was in the public eye years before he was elected as an MP in 2004 and was long known to have prime ministerial ambitions.
Mr Malcolm Turnbull was in the public eye years before he was elected as an MP in 2004 and was long known to have prime ministerial ambitions.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Malcolm Turnbull, who ousted Abbott, holds different views on issues like climate change, same-sex marriage

On the surface, Australia's incoming prime minister Malcolm Turnbull appears to have much in common with the man he just ousted.

He and Mr Tony Abbott are Catholics, both men studied law at Sydney University and were also Rhodes scholars at Oxford.

But Mr Turnbull, 60, has very different, more progressive views on politics and is likely to take the country in an altogether different direction. Unlike the staunchly conservative Mr Abbott, he supports strong action on climate change and legalising same-sex marriage.   

He will now finally have the chance to try to put some of his views into practice, though he will need to take the Liberal Party - and the nation - with him.

Despite the sudden turn of events in Canberra yesterday, Mr Turn- bull's rise to the leadership has been a long time coming.

A former journalist, lawyer and businessman, he is a self-made millionaire who lives in one of Sydney's most exclusive suburbs, Point Piper, with his high-profile wife Lucy, a former Lord Mayor of Sydney. He was in the public eye years before he was elected as an MP in 2004 and was long known to have ambitions to be the PM.

He first rose to prominence in the mid-1980s as the lawyer who represented Peter Wright, a former senior British intelligence operative with MI5 who took on the British government in the famous Spycatcher case over an attempt to ban the memoirs. The successful bid to overturn the ban made headlines around the world.

In the 1990s, he was a fast adapter to the online world and chaired Internet provider OzEmail before serving as chairman and managing director of Goldman Sachs Australia.

Interestingly, he was a leader of the Republican movement in the lead-up to a failed referendum on the issue in 1999.  One of his main opponents during those years was Mr Abbott, an ardent monarchist.

When he made his maiden speech in Parliament in 2004, he expressed his passion for Australia's diversity and multiculturalism and warned that the economy needed to be equipped for the ageing population. "Contrary to popular myth, our community is egalitarian, democratic and far from homogeneous," he said. "A strong Australia in a changing world will be one committed to enterprise, self-reliance, economic growth and, above all, high productivity."

It took only four years as an MP for Mr Turnbull to become party leader. He took over as opposition leader in 2008 but lost much of his public support when he called on then PM Kevin Rudd to resign, citing a series of e-mail messages which suggested Mr Rudd was corrupt but which turned out to be forged. He also angered some in his party with his support for a carbon emissions trading scheme.

He was eventually ousted in a party ballot in 2009 that Mr Abbott won by just one vote. His downfall was seen as the result of his political impatience and a failure to consult with his Liberal colleagues.

Opinion polls show Mr Turnbull now has strong public support - and is far more popular than Mr Abbott - but he has struggled to win over the more conservative wing of his own party. He will now need to restrain his socially liberal instincts if he wants to retain the party's support.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2015, with the headline 'Australia set for different path under new PM'. Print Edition | Subscribe