Australia's new PM a silver-tongued millionaire

2015-09-15 10:14
Malcolm Turnbull is sworn in by Australia's governor-general Sir Peter Cosgrove as Australia's 29th prime minister at Government House in Canberra. (AFP)

Malcolm Turnbull is sworn in by Australia's governor-general Sir Peter Cosgrove as Australia's 29th prime minister at Government House in Canberra. (AFP)

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Sydney - Australia's new prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, whose glittering career ranged from the law to investment banking and tech start-ups before entering public life, has a compelling way with words but a reputation for arrogance.

A formidable opponent in the courtroom and the boardroom, the 60-year-old multi-millionaire will need all his charm to unite his conservative Liberal Party which at times has recoiled from his socially liberal views.

Some in the party ranks were quick to condemn Turnbull for his ousting of outgoing premier Tony Abbott, who just two years ago swept to a convincing electoral victory.

"This is the act of an egotist, a selfish individual who has consistently proved himself not to be a team player but one who pursues self-interest," said former state premier Jeff Kennett.

'A person of great intelligence'

But others feel that Turnbull, who entered politics in 2004, is the best person to replace Abbott if they are to win elections expected next year, with polls suggesting they are on track to lose.

Turnbull's cut-through turn-of-phrase, which he can turn to economic matters, his love of digital media or his sadness at the passing of a pet dog, is acknowledged as one of his greatest strengths.

"He's a person of great intelligence," said former Liberal prime minister John Howard, adding that he had the "capacity to explain economic concepts very clearly and very lucidly".

Turnbull has led the right-leaning Liberal Party in opposition before, for just over a year from September 2008. But he was dumped for refusing to abandon a carbon emissions trading scheme designed to combat climate change, a policy many in his party rejected.

Heart on his sleeve

In recent months his views have also seemed at odds with those of the party - backing gay marriage which is not legal in Australia, insistence that the threat of Islamic State group not be overstated, and a long-held wish that Australia become a republic.

"He's energetic, determined, passionate and no-one can ever suggest that Malcolm doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve," said Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, a key Turnbull supporter.

"You know exactly where you stand with Malcolm."

One of the richest politicians in federal parliament, Turnbull is distantly related through his late mother, academic and writer Coral Lansbury, to actress and television star Angela Lansbury.

Reputation for arrogance

Together with his wife Lucy, a former mayor of Sydney and philanthropist, the Turnbulls make an impressive power couple who live in a luxurious home in Sydney's waterfront Point Piper.

His reputation for being arrogant runs ahead of him and his staggering wealth has led to accusation of being out-of-touch with ordinary Australians, a characterisation the Labor opposition has jumped on.

"In fairness to him, it's hard to be in touch with the needs of working people when you are a multi-millionaire that lives in a pink mansion on Sydney Harbour," quipped Labor politician Jason Clare.

Turnbull has reportedly nursed the ambition to be prime minister for decades, and has admitted to an interest in politics from a young age.

"As all young boys, I had many dreams but the idea of being able to make a contribution... change the course of the country's progress for the better, you know, the ideal of public service was something that always appealed to me," he said in 2009.

Raised by his father

Malcolm Bligh Turnbull was raised by his single parent father, after his mother left the family when he was still in primary school. He was educated at Sydney Grammar with the help of a scholarship.

A Rhodes scholar at Oxford, Turnbull worked as a journalist before turning to the law.

He gained prominence in the 1980s for successfully defending former MI5 agent Peter Wright against the British government in the "Spycatcher" trial.

From law he entered the corporate world, becoming a merchant banker with Goldman Sachs and then investing in technology start-ups, before entering public life by spearheading a push for Australia to turn itself into a republic.

The campaign was unsuccessful, but by October 2004 he had entered parliament and under Liberal prime minister John Howard rose to be environment minister.

When Howard was swept from power in 2007, Turnbull was not the first choice to lead the party. But, ever a contender, he was opposition leader within a year.

His subsequent loss of the Liberal leadership to Abbott, by just one vote, was a crushing defeat for Turnbull who contemplated resignation from politics.

He was persuaded to stay on and as communications minister worked hard to sell government policies before launching his challenge on Monday.

Read more on:    tony abbott  |  australia

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