Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What doesn't the new Liberal leader know about?

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Malcolm Turnbull may be the best connected leader the party's ever had.

His links extend into the law, high finance, personal finance, information technology, academia, the media and the Australian Labor Party.

He first made contact with the labour movement while packing fruit at the Sydney markets in between finishing school and starting university.

As he remembers it, “I think I had been sacked or I was having some problems with my employer so I went down to the Trades Hall to ask for help"...

The then head of the NSW Trades and Labour Council Barry Unsworth listened “with a modest amount of interest and said, you should see another Trades Hall official Bob Carr.”

Later to become the NSW Premier, Turnbull says Carr “didn’t seem particularly interested, but then uttered the line I’ve never forgotten, which was: I’ve just read a fascinating book on the politics of Eastern Europe, would you like to borrow it?”

The two became firm friends. In the 1980s Turnbull partnered with another former Labor Premier Neville Wran and a Labor son Nicholas Whitlam in an investment bank they entitled Whitlam Turnbull (and later renamed Turnbull and Partners when Whitlam was forced out).

After packing fruit, he worked as a journalist for The Bulletin magazine and Channel Nine. Even now he has been known to direct television journalists in their work, suggesting shots.

Moving to the other side of the camera as Kerry Packer’s personal lawyer, he defended the Nine Network owner vigorously when his reputation was under attack at the Costigan Royal Commission and later won a landmark case against the Thatcher government in the so-called Spycatcher trial. He was for a time one of the most famous lawyers in the country. He married Lucy, daughter of the famous Sydney Queen's Counsel Tom Hughes.

At Turnbull and Partners and later as head of Goldman Sachs in Australia he made enemies and had success in corporate takeovers, becoming involved in the affairs of the Alan Bond group of companies, Fairfax and the insurer HIH.

As a private investor after corporate life he owned stakes in technology and personal investment companies. As head of the Liberal Party’s Menzies Research Institute he developed deep links into academia, giving him access to ideas well beyond those usually available to Australian politicians.

He knows his way around.