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Man and Superman - which one is Turnbull?

Peter Switzer
24 June 2016

The stark reality of the crazy world we live in, where the Brits think it’s a good idea to dump their EU membership and effectively end the career of their Prime Minister David Cameron in going back to the future, and where some Yanks think Donald Trump is the solution to their apparent woes, got me thinking about Malcolm Turnbull and whether he’s the superman we need.

The Brexit decision has turned the popular belief that the bookies know best, as Ladbrokes had the Remain option at 7/1 on, which are the kinds of odds reserved for unbeatable champions of Black Caviar calibre.

Right now, the bookies have a Malcolm election victory at $1.15 while Labor is 5/1, so if you put $100 on the Coalition you’d receive $15 if it wins but if Labor salutes the judge next Saturday, you’d pocket $400.

So, after Thursday in the UK, could Bill Shorten end up being a surprise superman? After all, Bill is behind with the bookies but is doing well in the polls.

As a young man I was overwhelmed by the foreword to George Bernard Shaw’s play Man and Superman. Apart from convincing me I was not a man of letters and had a lot of work to do to become one, in later years it has made me think about the men and supermen I’ve interviewed, analysed and work with in my life in and out of the media.

My first brush with a superman was my Dad but many of us with a one-eyed view might lay claim to that and my heart goes out to those who can’t make that claim, even if our powers of assessment can be clouded by filial bias.

As someone who played rep rugby league with the Roosters until under/18s, playing first grade water polo and winning a Sydney metropolitan team gold with Surf Lifesaving Australia, I competed with and hung out with some exceptional super athletes, but few struck me as supermen. That said, my powers of observation could be a little faulty.

By age 21 I did encounter a Sydney Grammar old boy who was a member of the patrol team I captained for North Bondi Surf Club. That hitherto unknown clubbie colleague was one Malcolm Turnbull.

At the time, he struck me as one of the more earnest and serious thinking young men I’d ever met. He was then the state political roundsman for radio station 2SM, which was the number one music station in Sydney. He was also penning a legal column in the great Bulletin magazine, while doing a law degree.

It didn’t strike me at the time that this guy one day could be our Prime Minister but, on reflection, I bet there was no one else on that famous beach that day who was more likely to live in The Lodge.

Over the course of a swimming season, a patrol could do 10 sessions patrolling the beach. Malcolm and I didn’t meet 10 times as occasionally his dad Bruce would do patrols for him, which over the years I have teased him about. Despite the limited number of encounters because of his hectic timetable, he made an indelible impact on my mental hard disk.

And to me that’s the ultimate test of superman qualities.

Over my years in the media, I’ve locked horns with the exceptional Paul Keating and while I grilled him in our one and only interview by calling his Budget Surplus a phony one, his very presence in those days prevailing over the economic agenda of Australia was unforgettable.

And while cartoonists in those days loved to portray him as a dark undertaker character, his long shadow has been cast upon our economy positively. And our lives with the reforms he championed from deregulation of the banking system to the floating of the dollar give him the credentials to be a superman.

In business, the likes of GE’s acclaimed CEO of the 20th century, Jack Welch, quite staggered me when I interviewed him in front of a 1000 people at the Sydney Convention Centre, who had paid $900 to hear Jack speak.

People like Welch, whether you like them or not, have a gobsmacking presence that comes from their history of chancing their arm, taking risks on the high wire of life and coming up trumps more times than not.

Welch, a diminutive man, was seen as a corporate giant, who became famous for his process of sacking 10% of his workforce each year! Yep, he did regular reviews and those likely to lose their gig were rated as E-players. Unless they lost that rating, they went.

He insisted that these people didn’t want to be at GE and many of them later thanked him for helping them find satisfaction elsewhere. They needed a push and Jack was the superman who had the guts to do it.

The supermen and women in our midst can make decisions mere mortals can’t make. They are committed to self-improvement, they are on song 24/7 and they have a drive for success that makes them forever memorable.

You feel this force when you’re in the company of power women such as Harvey Norman’s Katie Page, who her husband, Gerry Harvey, says is the best businesswoman he has ever met. And a lot of business experts agree.

You feel the same drive when dealing with the super irrepressible Gai Waterhouse and tennis great, Chris Evert.

Evert had a 90% success rate in professional tennis, which puts her in a super class of her own. This quote from her sums up what explains the super beings among us: “There were times when deep down I wanted to win so badly, I could actually will it to happen. I think most of my career was based on desire.”

Desire to win and going the extra mile normal people won’t go is the outstanding characteristic of supermen and women and Evert summed it up succinctly.

It might have been a coincidence but when Greg Norman married Evert, strange things happened. While still on his honeymoon, Greg came within nine holes of becoming golf's oldest major champion at 53 as he led the British Open, but he choked.

Not long after, the couple split up – now that’s one hard superwoman!

So, is Malcolm a superman nowadays? He certainly looked it when I was 21. He was when he won the famous Spycatcher legal case in the UK and when he made a fortune with Ozemail and then as an investment banker with Goldman Sachs.

Politics is a great leveler and Malcolm has looked like anything but a superman since the campaign has started. His battle with Bill, a definite non-superman, has been an unmemorable battle.

If the bookies are right, we might find out in the fullness of time that Malcolm Turnbull is not a super campaigner, but given his track record, he might grow into a super PM. John Howard initially looked like a very ordinary man who’d over-achieved but he became super in the top job. In terms of our next PM, we can only hope.

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