Spending money to win votes is part of the democratic process, demonstrably so. Which is why it makes sense that the 29th Prime Minister of Australia should be on the BRW 200 Rich List. When he wrestled leadership from Tony Abbott in September 2015 the polls suggested a landslide win was coming his way. But he had to wait and as each month rolled by his favourability diminished. When an election was finally announced for July 2016 things got even worse. Bill Shorten, a man who Turnbull doesn't really rate, was about to make a loser out of him. That could not happen. So he reached into his hip pocket and pulled out a rabbit. Abracadabra and they won - if only just. Magic Turnbull had sprinkled $1.75M of donation glitter dust on the party to secure The Lodge. But like all magician's tricks this was just another dazzling illusion. A victory from the electorate had been achieved but Turnbull had done so without creating any real authority for himself. Because political capital can only be earned by persuading the public with your big ideas. He simply had no overarching narrative to begin with.
During the 2013 election cycle the LNP strongly criticised Clive Palmer for buying PUP seats. Who the hell did this dove pie munching tycoon think he was? Yet it worked. He got up and so did two other candidates he bankrolled. Yet it did not really work. The party of three swiftly collapsed midterm with none of them seeking a seat in 2016 under the PUP banner. Turnbull himself has a prior history of self-donation, back in 1999 he coughed up $3M as part of the Yes case to make Australia a Republic. That investment did not pay off but he came to appreciate how cash can buy votes through the medium of marketing. Win or lose it all feels crook. In a fair democracy one person equals one vote. But the notion is corrupted when one person can use their personal treasure to unevenly alter the outcome. The curdling experienced right now churns in the guts extra hard as the PM himself has more gold than Coolangatta. A democracy ceases to be a competition of ideas when one person can simply buy a taller platform and purchase a louder megaphone. In the US Donald Trump became President by spending a lot his own money. He would not have won without that plane of his. Perhaps Michael Bloomberg should have run, he’s even wealthier. In the UK they have stricter rules on spending and their current PM Teresa May has a more modest net worth. If the system allows large sums to be spent, quickly enough spending large amounts becomes compulsory. And in turn the people who do get elected will, by necessity, be the wealthier types. The net result can only be an unrepresentative government.
Having the Aussie PM spend $1.75M to push his own party over the line feels like cheating. And cheating winners are really just pimped out losers. On a subconscious level that is why it feels like he is not actually PM at all. He's more like a random no-name minister that you've seen on the tele a few times saying something unremarkable. The member for Wentworth performs the self-deprecating grins of a pleasant old man twisting on his heels as he stands beside the fireplace spinning yarns. But his stories go nowhere. He doesn't have the capital to say anything meaningful to anyone anywhere about anything at all. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was meant to be someone for whom the nation would erect posthumous statues to. But he ain’t. Instead he's twirling in an eddy, hollowed out with entropy, too exhausted to paddle further. If he died today he'd be lucky, lucky if we put up a wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing fluorescent tube man.