The Politics    Wednesday, November 18, 2015


By Michael Lucy

Photo: Sahlan Hayes Source
Malcolm Turnbull has more in common with Barack Obama than you might think

A one-on-one meeting – or a bilateral one, at least – with the president of the USA is a bit of a big deal for anyone, even someone as content with himself as Malcolm Turnbull. Yesterday he sat down with Barack Obama for an hour or so and between them, as the saying goes, they solved the world’s problems. Obama, at least, seemed quite relaxed; Turnbull is after all the fourth Australian PM he’s met since taking office in 2008. Nonetheless things seem to have gone well: afterward, Obama was caught on a microphone delivering a murmured invitation for Turnbull to visit Washington, and then spoke of “what I hope to be a growing friendship between myself and the prime minister”.

Obama offers something of a model for Turnbull: not just politically, though in many areas they are closely aligned (the centre-right of the US Democratic party overlaps a lot with the centre-left of our Liberals), but also in terms of temperament and image. Obama is a smart man who once was often criticized for his professorial, aloof tone, but who has over time rearranged his wonkish technocratic sensibility into something that sounds a lot more like regular-guy common sense. What once seemed dispassionate and disconnected now feels more like cool, level-headed pragmatism.

This is a great trick to pull off, and Turnbull seems to have managed something like a similar transformation during his years in the wilderness, though his age (and whiteness) mean he can get away with a bit more patriarchal gravitas in his pronouncements. Gone is much of the arrogance and waffling; in their place is a sense of comfort and competence. Like Obama, of course, Turnbull has found that his eloquence benefits by comparison to his predecessor’s tendency for malapropism.

(Obama delivers something of a masterclass in the style in this recent GQ interview; Turnbull’s own GQ interview earlier this year didn’t quite hit the same heights.)

And style only goes so far, of course; the real test will come in the doing. Obama has seven years in the White House behind him, and only one left to go. Turnbull has held power for not much more than seven weeks, and he likely wants to keep it for at least as long as his counterpart has.

No doubt Turnbull was watching Obama closely in their meeting, and in the joint press conference afterwards he missed no opportunity to use the first-person plural. As he made sure to say, he and Obama are “very much of the same mind”.


Today’s links

  • Scott Morrison has forced the sale of seven properties owned by foreign investors who have breached rules.
  • Jacqui Lambie says Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, Australia’s grand mufti, should be made to wear an ankle monitor.
  • David Leyonhjelm has appeared in an anti-gun control video for the US-based National Rifle Association in which he calls Australia a “nation of victims”.
  • Mal Brough may be under investigation for his role in the leak of the diaries of former parliamentary speaker Peter Slipper.
  • “Sharing economy” companies Uber and Airbnb have given comical non-answers about their tax practices to the senate tax inquiry.
  • French police have exchanged gunfire with suspected terrorists in Saint Denis.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

Michael Lucy

Michael Lucy is a writer based in Melbourne.


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