Turnbull lashes out in secret audio. Picture: Kym Smith
Turnbull lashes out in secret audio. Picture: Kym Smith

‘He failed’: Turnbull savaged

PAUL Keating excoriated Malcolm Turnbull, saying he "failed dismally" to pull the Liberal Party back to the centre and did not "show a skerrick of leadership" on one of his pet issues - Australia becoming a republic.

The growing war of words between Australia's former prime ministers is starting to resemble a WWE Royal Rumble, with an extra contestant entering the ring every day to chokeslam their favourite target.

It all started with a recording of Mr Turnbull tearing into Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott.

"When you stop being prime minister, that's it," Mr Turnbull said.

"There is no way I would be hanging around like embittered Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott. Seriously, these people are like miserable, miserable ghosts."

Mr Rudd quickly shot back at Mr Turnbull, mocking him for being a hypocrite.

"Dear Malcolm. A quick reality check on 'miserable ghosts'," Mr Rudd said. "Having told the world you've left politics behind, you seem to be in the media every day talking about it."

Today, Mr Keating joined the fray in characteristically venomous fashion, saying Mr Turnbull's comments were enough to "make you choke on your Weeties".

"His capitulation to conservatives on the republic says all that needs to be said about Malcolm's wider ambitions for the country," Mr Keating told Fairfax Media.

"He attacks Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott as ghosts, yet if you needed to know what Malcolm Turnbull truly believes in, what he would die in a ditch over, you would need a microscope to help you find it."

The former Labor prime minister was particularly scathing of Mr Turnbull's failure to make any progress on Australia becoming a republic.

The pair worked towards that goal together in the 1990s, when Mr Turnbull was head of the Australian Republican Movement, but the idea was ultimately defeated in the 1999 referendum.

Mr Turnbull did not push the issue as prime minister, believing Australians will be unlikely to vote for a republic until the Queen dies. He saw that as a "practical" attitude. Mr Keating had some harsher adjectives in mind.

"Malcolm Turnbull had just on three years as prime minister, yet he failed to show a skerrick of leadership on Australia moving to a republic," he said.

"Worse than that, he had said the republic could only happen after a rise in public sentiment promoted by Australians by 'door to door' advocacy, and only following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. That is, a republic but not out of any leadership by him."

Mr Keating does at least seem to hold Mr Turnbull in higher esteem than the rest of the Liberal Party. He said the fallen prime minister had been treated "very shabbily" and "had not deserved such contempt from his peers".

Given he once described Mr Abbott as an "intellectual nobody" and "resident nutter", among other things, perhaps Mr Turnbull should count himself lucky for getting off so lightly.

So far, Mr Abbott has refused to respond to Mr Turnbull's remarks. Two other former prime ministers, John Howard and Julia Gillard, have also remained silent.

Many Australians must wish Mr Turnbull, Mr Rudd and Mr Keating were following their lead.

"What happened to graciousness?" Sky News host Janine Perrett asked last night, expressing a mixture of amusement and exasperation.

"John Howard and Julia Gillard are model citizens. Paul Keating might have felt a bit of limelight deprivation. But personally, much as I agree with his comments, I would have thought he should be relieved he wasn't included in the 'miserable ghosts' line.

"I would have shut up if I was him and kept my head down."

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