Turnbull is dancing to the beat of a different drum
Last week all six crossbench MPs in the House of Representatives gathered to be photographed for a newspaper with all the ease of men who know they share a loose but important bond. They were Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott from NSW, Adam Bandt from Victoria, Bob Katter from Queensland, Tony Crook from Western Australia, and Andrew Wilkie from Tasmania.
Off to the side of the Parliament House courtyard they occupied was another man, not a member of the group, but familiar with them.
It was Liberal front bencher Malcolm Turnbull, the shadow minister for communication, and he stood quietly monitoring his iPhone.
Turnbull has become the 7th Beatle. He has played the odd gig with an independent mind, like his six independent MP colleagues, but knows he isn’t part of the group and never will be.
There is a growing perception among some MPs that Turnbull would like the freedom and influence of his non-aligned colleagues. Maybe he could jam with them at least.
“He’ll come over as soon as you go,” one of the cross benchers said to a passing reporter.
At times Turnbull appears to walk a different path to his Opposition colleagues, and he has a distinct problem with some of the Nationals.
The member for Wentworth has never shown policy or personal disloyalty to Tony Abbott, but occasionally appears more comfortable with others, not least on the issue of climate change.
He shares views on global warming with some of the independents, more than with some of his own colleagues, but it is on the National Broadband Network (NBN) that he and the cross bench MPs became brothers in a cause.
There were a number of reasons why Turnbull would have wanted to speak to the MPs as they waited for the photographer.
One was to lobby them on amendments to the Government’s NBN legislation then before the Senate and about to head for the Reps.
As he later told Parliament, Turnbull wanted the independents to back a broadband delivery system different to the one proposed by the Government, and to demand that a universal price structure be legislated.
More important to the independents, however, was his commitment to the concept of a national, powerful broadband network. They and Turnbull had that in common, and they united to protect the concept.
To them, the NBN was the ultimate conqueror of distance, an economic feed line they needed, the source of health care and education in the bush. Senior Nationals saw it only about watching movies on a PC.
“I think this piece of technology ... is potentially the greatest piece of regional infrastructure that we will see this century,” Tony Windsor told Parliament on Monday.
“I am appalled that members of the National Party are trivialising this debate in the way that they are…
“I have respect for the member for Wentworth, because I think he has long-term views in terms of some of the very important issues that confront this nation.
“Regrettably, his current leader does not…”
Turnbull smiled as his leader Tony Abbott copped one from Windsor. However, Windsor was benign when compared to one of his independent mates.
He had backed the Labor minority government. Bob Katter did not, but he voted for the Government’s NBN legislation.
In Parliament, Katter credited Turnbull for keeping the idea of a boosted broadband for rural residents alive, comparing him indirectly but glowingly to Labor Prime Minister Ben Chifley.
“And I applaud the member for Wentworth, who has kept his gun loaded and has ridden shotgun all of the way on this,” said Katter, referring to “one of the most important moves forward that we will see in our lifetimes”.
He said: “Chifley had to make a decision after the War on whether he was going to deliver phones to every house in Australia.
“If you want to go back and have a look at the arguments, the same silly people were sitting on this (Opposition) side of the House (of Representatives) arguing that every house in Australia could not have a telephone because it would cost too much.
“Well, thank the good Lord - because my family came from Cloncurry, where they have lived for over a century - that Chifley was listened to and not the Opposition.”
All the cross benchers, apart from Tony Crook, backed the NBN legislation, and Malcolm Turnbull was delighted to be back in the band for a while.
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