Alex Turnbull has spent 15 weeks defending his father Malcolm’s legacy and publicly avenging his dumping. Now former staff are spilling the beans.
Alex Turnbull has spent 15 weeks defending his father Malcolm’s legacy and publicly avenging his dumping. Now former staff are spilling the beans. Kym Smith

Turnbull 2.0: Return of the vengeful son

PROLIFIC tweeter Alex Turnbull has made it clear he thinks the coal mining industry exerts too much influence over the Liberal Party. But it was another form of influence - his own unelected voice - that had government staff and senior bureaucrats feeling the pressure in the final months of the Turnbull government.

The Sunday Telegraph can reveal the outspoken son of former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull was invited to join a private WhatsApp text message group on energy policy shortly after the 2016 election.

From his home in Singapore where he manages a hedge fund, Alex took an active role in the group chat where senior policy advisers, press secretaries and department officials discussed energy policy and strategies.

There was no paternal edict that Alex must be obeyed - but Turnbull Jr showed no hesitation in expressing his many opinions.

 

Alex Turnbull getting into an Uber outside his parent's Point Piper mansion. Picture: Hollie Adams.
Alex Turnbull getting into an Uber outside his parent's Point Piper mansion. Picture: Hollie Adams.

 

"For him (Alex), energy is obviously a personal interest. But we just thought, great, now we have to deal with Alex too," one former staffer said.

"Where does the ripple of opinion stop? Surely there is enough experts, department advisers, political advisers and ministers involved."

In the 15 weeks since Malcolm Turnbull was dumped from office, the famously tempestuous ex-PM has done his fair share of sniping. But it is the fury of the wronged son that has really fuelled the government's ongoing pain.

Within days of the August coup, Alex declared he would be speaking his mind after years of constraint. The Harvard graduate and father-of-two has been true to his word, bombarding a ravenous political public with tweets and interviews in which he defends his father's legacy, vents about Liberal MPs and climate policy, attacks journalists and commentators he believes precipitated the leadership spill, and even endorsing Labor's candidate in the critical Wentworth by-election.

Senior Labor sources claim Alex has gone so far as to deal directly with Labor officials during that campaign and in the weeks since.

Last week, the 36-year-old came under fire for a vile tweet about the sex life of commentator Janet Albrechtsen, a conservative, after she described him as a "sore loser". Eventually he offered a backhanded apology which further insulted Albrechtsen, deleting the tweet.

Malcolm Turnbull made no secret during his political career that he relied on the advice and wisdom of his close-knit family. Staff said his wife Lucy, son-in-law James Brown, daughter Daisy and even his father-in-law Tom Hughes - a former attorney-general - were influential.

But only Alex really pushed into the inner circle.

Staff of former Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said Alex Turnbull “ramped up” his political advice during negotiations about the Coalition’s energy policy. Picture Kym Smith
Staff of former Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said Alex Turnbull “ramped up” his political advice during negotiations about the Coalition’s energy policy. Picture Kym Smith

 

"Malcolm relied on his family but in the Gonski (WhatsApp) group we didn't have Daisy involved," one former staffer said, referring to the fact Mr Turnbull's daughter Daisy, a teacher, wasn't consulted on education policy.

"It's one thing to float the balloon at a family BBQ, it's another to have them directly involved with the discussion."

In 2017, Malcolm Turnbull buckled to pressure to dump the Clean Energy Target proposed by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, and adopting a new energy policy called the National Energy Guarantee (NEG). The reform was meant to appease climate sceptics by guaranteeing dispatchable power while cutting emissions. Staff who worked for both the PM and then-energy minister Josh Frydenberg said Alex's involvement "ramped up" when the policy was being prepared.

"We didn't feel we needed political advice from Alex, knowing that it would also weigh on Malcolm's decision making," another WhatsApp group member said.

Much of Alex's input, like his recent tweets, centred around the need to ramp up investment in renewable energy. He also warned of the Liberal Party's ignorance on climate change.

Few question Alex's intelligence and knowledge of the energy sector. Indeed, this has become his speciality in his banking career.

During a stint at global bank Goldman Sachs, the young Turnbull was responsible for buying and selling the debt and assets of energy companies affected by pricing carbon. The Singapore fund he established in 2015, Keshik Capital, is also an investor in Australian listed renewables company Infigen Energy.

One former staffer defended the inclusion, saying Mr Turnbull son had "strong opinions" but didn't influence the Government's policy decision. "He expressed his views but I would say it was over the top."

Government sources said Alex was invited to join shortly after an gaffe which embarrassed his dad. In 2016, a Facebook post criticising Singapore pollution surfaced while Singapore's PM Lee Hsien Loong visited Australia. Alex, using a pseudonym, said the Lee government's policy was "recklessly endangering the health of children."

Malcolm Turnbull was said to be "furious" about the post, given it caused embarrassment during the visit. Many of Turnbull's former staff believe the PM invited Alex to join the private energy discussions as a way of trying to keep such criticisms out of the public eye. But it wasn't the last intervention.

 

Malcolm Turnbull with his grandchildren Jack and Alice, daughter Daisy and wife Lucy on the day he lost the Liberal leadership. Picture: Picture Kym Smith
Malcolm Turnbull with his grandchildren Jack and Alice, daughter Daisy and wife Lucy on the day he lost the Liberal leadership. Picture: Picture Kym Smith

In March, Turnbull Jr was drawn into an international scandal, claiming he was sidelined from Goldman Sachs after he raised concerns about the bank's dealing with Malaysian fund One Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). His comments came just as PM Turnbull was preparing to welcome Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to a special ASEAN summit in Sydney. It was another triumph of timing.



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