Turnbull resigns as Communications Minister to challenge Abbott


news Malcolm Turnbull has reportedly resigned his post as Communications Minister and from Federal Cabinet to challenge Tony Abbott for the Prime Ministership, in a move that has the potential to result in a dramatic shake-up of the way the National Broadband Network project is run.

In a press conference at Parliament House this afternoon, Turnbull confirmed that he had met with Abbott to request a leadership ballot for the leadership of the Liberal Party, while multiple media outlets are also reporting that Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has also met with the Prime Minister. Turnbull confirmed he had resigned as Communications Minister and from Cabinet.

The Minister said it was not a decision that “anyone could take lightly” and that the course of action he was pursuing had been urged on him by many people over a long period of time.

Turnbull’s principle rationale for challenging Abbott was two-fold, with the Member for Wentworth stating that ultimately Abbott had not been successful in providing the economic leadership that Australia needed, and that a different style of leadership was needed that would explore the challenges and opportunities that Australia would need to develop an “agil

Turnbull also pointed out that Abbott remained extremely unpopular. “We have lost 30 Newspolls in a row,” he said. “It is clear that the people have made up their mind about Mr Abbott’s leadership”. The Minister said he would seek to restore a traditional, consultative Cabinet Government in the style of the long-running administration of John Howard.

Regardless of the outcome, the news has the potential to cause a substantial shake-up in Australia’s technology sector.

Turnbull has been viewed as one of the few senior Coalition figures to support the National Broadband Network proceeding in any form. Senior Liberal figures such as Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey have been long-time critics of the project, and figures such as South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi have expressed the view that the Government should not be in the business of providing telecommunications services. Abbott famously ordered Turnbull to “demolish” the NBN.

Under Turnbull’s stewardship, the NBN company and much of the overall structure of Labor’s NBN project have been maintained, although Turnbull has radically reshaped the project, integrating Telstra’s copper network and the HFC cable networks owned by Telstra and Optus. The Minister has faced sustained criticism from telecommunications experts for such moves.

Some commentators have long suspected that Turnbull has personally been in favour of retaining Labor’s previous all-fibre version of the NBN, but was forced by his role as part of the Abbott administration to significantly water it down.

Turnbull does appear to have acted, as part of the Abbott administration, against his personal views on a number of other technology issues. For example, in Opposition the Member for Wentworth was a critic of Data Retention legislation and also expressed concerns about cracking down on Internet piracy. In Government, Turnbull has supported Abbott ally and Attorney-General George Brandis in enacting such policies.

As Prime Minister, the Member for Wentworth may have the ability to reshape technology policy further along lines that he may personally desire.

Alternatively, should Abbott retain the Prime Ministership, the Government’s front bench would lose one of its highest-profile MPs focused on technology issues. It is not clear who could replace Turnbull, although a number of Liberal MPs and Senators have an understanding of technology sector issues.

One contender, especially in a Turnbull Administration, would be likely to be Turnbull’s existing Parliamentary Secretary, Paul Fletcher, although Fletcher is not viewed as a senior figure within Liberal ranks. Other Coalition MPs with technology experience include Senator Simon Birmingham, who sat for some time on success Senate Environment and Communications Committees. Liberal Senator Anne Ruston is currently the chair of the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee.

Queensland Liberal MP Jane Prentice is currently chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications, and also last week helped form a new cross-party Parliamentary Friends of the Internet group.

Opinion/analysis to be published separately.

Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting


  1. Faaaark, really?

    Won’t happen this week will it? Canning by-election and Abbott doesn’t qualify for the lifetime PM pension until the end of the week.

    • It’s officially happened. Turnbull has already made a statement and given the challenge…

      very interesting times…

        • Yeah, I think even the political journos were thinking that too, but the timing makes sense considering parliment has a break coming up.

      • 9pm they say, Abbott’s henchmen lining up to sprout their support… Cormann, Abetz, Andrews etc… with friends like those… but at 7.45pm Turnbull’s gang say they have the numbers…

    • Excellent news that the communications Luddite Turnbull is gone from the communications portfolio. Hopefully now we can get someone who knows what Australia needs and build a proper full FTTP NBN.

      Turnbull can run away tail between his legs for the total failure he has been while communications minister (and hopefully when he’s rejected in his bid for PM).

      • Are you really that ignorant of politics? Abbott gave him that portfolio to either trash the NBN or prove himself to be a traitor who couldn’t do as he was told. You can thank Turnbull for not completely destroying the NBN, and you will most likely be thanking him when he changes the plans and does justice to it now.

        • you will most likely be thanking him when he changes the plans and does justice to it now.

          This is sadly wishful thinking.

  2. It was telling earlier today.

    Ministers in LNP typically have said that they support the current leadership; this morning everyone was saying “no comment”. I figured it was on, then.

    Really, it’s been ‘on’ for a few weeks, it’s just taken this long for Ministers to realise how many seats are at risk; Canning has simply reinforced the view. They are boxed into a corner and are looking at almost certain defeat at the next election, under Abbott.

    Turnbull or ScoMo? They have a real shot of being re-elected, particularly given both will likely clear the decks of risk, ahead of the next election.

    As for the NBN, it’s course is already set. Labor have as much admitted there’s no going back. We can only hope perhaps a younger and more engaged minister will take over the portfolio.

    But I doubt it.

      • I couldn’t see him quitting as Comms Minister if he didn’t think he had the numbers really.

        Either way, we’ll be getting a new comms minister by the look of things.

        • Bingo. He has the numbers.

          Turnbull has been on the receiving end of this, he knows the drill. It may be close, but I cannot see the party purposefully going into the next election with Abbott.

          The next question, though, is whether Albo will take Shortbread on. ;)

          • We can only hope mate :)

            Albo won the popular/grass roots vote, it was only the union bosses that got him the leadership…unions and the ALP need to start listening to their membership…

          • The next question, though, is whether Albo will take Shortbread on. ;)

            This kinda wedges Bill a lot too, Bill Shorten will be looking even more right wing than Malcolm in the middle (centre). I think it’s widely recognised amongst the commentator set that Bill would have a lot of trouble beating MT.

        • Exactly my thoughts, he wouldnt have challenged without at least knowing he had solid numbers.

          Lets just hope that the NBN project will take a turn for the better whether he is in or out.

  3. If the challenge fails and MT is out and disgraced by the LNP, then what becomes of what’s left of the NBN? Do we get the RMN? The Rupert Murdoch Network?

  4. So just to get ahead of ourselves: if Turnbull wins and does want to improve the NBN, how much scope is there to do that without undermining his own credibility by essentially admitting ‘I did it that way because I had to’.

    Can he use the MTM cost blowout to justify switching to more fibre? Can he produce a difference in cost large enough between fibre and continuing as before that will account for having to eat the cost of buying the copper network? Or has he backed himself into a corner? I certainly hope not.

    • I reckon he only has to point back to Abbott’s instructions to destroy the NBN and say he was only doing as he was told.

      As much as I’d prefer an ALP led gov. Turnbull is a much better pick than ScoMo and the others to lead a half decent non-science hating, non-climate denying and non-future hating gov.

    • FTTH is dead. D-E-D. Dead.

      As leader, Turnbull will be far more interested in getting the party re-elected next year. His ‘fixing’ of the NBN ensures that the path is now set; he’s done all he likely wanted to do.

      There’s nothing left but to stay the course, and any member of parliament can do that.

      • I dunno… good points about getting re-elected and therefore the NBN not being high on the priority list, should Mal become PM…

        But here’a a copy/paste of my conspiracy theory from just this morning for further perusal, now…

        Turnbull Conspiracy theory in 5 easy steps…

        *Turnbull isn’t clueless.

        *He is simply doing his job, as he was asked by the current PM relating to the NBN, which in turn (along with a number of other WTF moments) from the PM, is helping MT become PM.

        *The perceived dithering, reviews and hold-ups (no FttN as yet) are intentional to A. make Abbott’s MTM look bad (yes it is bad, umm, so worse) and B. allow Turnbull a possible future return to FttP

        *Instead of being looked upon as Abbott appears to be, a throwback from a long lost era, as PM Turnbull dumps most of the extreme right, 50’s scare and warmongering and sets about getting Australia out of the doldrums Abbott and Hockey have haplessly overseen… he also announces that FttP will again be rolled out.

        *He goes down in history as a true visionary PM.


        • Nah. Really. FTTH is dead. The old policy is dead. Labor won’t revive, and there’s no real political mileage to be made reversing the decisions yet again.

          Besides, Turnbull honestly seems to put forward that the mixed-model is the only real option. He’s unlikely to suddenly change his tune. Too much invested in it.

          People need to let go of the old model, and start holding people accountable for the new.

          • yup its basically political suicide for the party if they just about face the MTM. If for no other reason if MT gets the PM ship he’s not about to go and say I lied and deceived the Australian public (before an election no less) will ya forgive me? … Tony made me do it!

            I highly doubt any tech savvy persons would get the portfolio either it’ll be someone that can debate and spin with the best of them and keep the NBN as much out of the public eye as possible. Lets be honest the MTM isn’t about best outcomes for Australians its about politicking.

          • There is no “set in stone” law that they need to do FttN for everything, Malcolm himself said they’d still use FttP where it didn’t make sense to use the old copper. If, as many here have said before, the copper is as sad as we all think, this is the perfect circuit breaker to allow a wider FttP roll out.

            Will it be all FttP. No. Could it be a lot more FttP. Yes.

            Take Tony’s “Demolish the NBN” off the table, and all kinds of things can become possible.

          • Thst’s the thing, if Turnbull can frame a rollout shift as a prudent response to shifting technological goalposts in order to save money in the long term rather than as a backflip, then it doesn’t need to be politically disadvantageous. If the numbers can be made to work and more fibre portrayed as an evolution, then the obstacle is how wedded Turnbull is to the MTM rather than political fallout. And he has made a point of leaving fibre open as a future option, so he can point to that as a precedent.

            If he gets attacked for NBN management as an indicator of his economic prowess, course correcting may also become in his political interest.

            This is the optimistic view, of course.

  5. Malcolm’s pretty astute. I think he’ll carry it. The party fear is palpable … it rose keenly at the Qld election, with Canning, that’s the next ghost. The timing is good, still a while until the next election, enough time for Turnbull to shore up support from within.

    The problem is now what happens with the MTM now that Turnbull is no longer Comms minister. He’s evacuated that job at the right time, just as the NBN BS is bubbling to the public surface in committees and opposition releases. Murdoch has turned on Abbott in the these last months (and particularly savage these last few weeks).

    I fear that Australian broadband will be lost yet again, thanks to these ridiculous political shenanigans, which while entertaining, is not doing a thing for the average Australian.

    • Well, in theory, all Turnbull has to do is instruct NBN to consider future (i.e. post-2025) requirements when choosing the ‘optimum’ technology for MTM. If they do an honest assessment, FTTN won’t cut the mustard, either on cost or capability (because the only way it can compete with fibre is by rolling out G.Fast, which will render it more expensive).

      The HFC is a done deal, so Uncle Rupert’s pay-TV dominance is preserved for a few more years, so maybe the rest of the country can go back to having some prospect of decent broadband. (And HFC can at least do ~100Mbps without spending *too* much money on upgrades, though congestion will remain an issue).

  6. It’s official, Australian politics is a joke. Both sides, same #@$% different time.
    Purge of the system is required!

  7. Today’s Senate Commitee seemed to suggest that HFC was not as simple as first believed, and that priority has been given over to FTTN. This doesn’t bode well for a switch to the SR’s Scenario 4, but that is what every man, woman and child should be petioning for.

  8. Wow, it appears that Malcolm is prepared to do *anything* to get away from the NBN mess he has created!

    Remember everyone….they are a TEAM!

    Same lies, same horrendous policies……if Australia falls for the smooth-talking Malcolm they deserve everything they get.

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