Unlike some of my more radical libertarian comrades and their fellow traveller conservative climate sceptics, I wasn’t particularly moved either way by Turnbull’s decision to commit the Liberals to compromising on emissions trading, even though I agree with the arguments that a carbon tax is a preferable method of addressing climate change concerns (PDF). As I see it, Turnbull’s position was based on what he saw as the political realities of the issue and his view that however badly designed he thought the ETS would be, the alternative of political impotence where no constructive input could be made by the Liberals would be worse, including for the sectors of the economy that could be affected by its implementation.
Agree or disagree with the assessment of this situation, it was an arguable case as a matter of political pragmatism rather than a matter of grand philosophical differences.
Nonetheless Malcolm Turnbull never lived up to the admittedly in hindsight rather inflated expectations which people like me on the classical liberal to libertarian side of politics had built up around him (see here for a flavour of the intra-libertarian discussion about Turnbull).
Were we too naive in expecting that someone of such Bobo sensibilities (to use the coinage of David Brooks) in what is essentially a Bobo electorate would be the closest the Liberal party could come to a principled classical liberal leader?
Turnbull was a hero to many civil libertarians for his role in the Spycatcher case. He was, even before he became leader, part of a ginger group within the party during Howard’s leadership that saw Howard-Costello as too tame on tax cuts and cuts to government spending. Turnbull showed some backbone early on in his leadership defending Bill Henson, placing himself briefly to the left of Kevin Rudd. He commissioned (but ultimately did not release) a review of the taxation system by Henry Ergas (disclosure – my former employer) that would have called for a transition over 15 years to a fully flat income tax system combined with a Friedman-style minimum income guarantee. Perhaps the last act was already an indication of his general pattern of political timidity though who can blame him given the relatively radical nature of some of the proposals?
But putting these aside, there would have been many many other opportunities for Turnbull to turn the Liberal party into a genuine socially and economically liberal party. He failed on both counts. He was unable to demonstrate principle on even a no-brainer like abolishing the detention debt for asylum seekers.