The Absence of Malcolm


On 17 November, The Age published a letter from a certain RA Marks that implied Kevin Rudd doesn’t exist. Said Marks, ‘I have written to him every month since he became Leader of the Labor Party about various issues that interest me and I have not had one reply from him.’

Democracy is an irritation for politicians. A would-be Prime Minister has a constituency of over 13 ½ million potential letter writers. Every member of the Lower House faces 80,000 potentially pesky constituents and let’s not even bring up the numbers a Senator has to deal with!

Spare a thought, then, for Sydney’s Malcolm Turnbull. He presides over a controversial portfolio which his Prime Minister runs into the ground. Moreover, the expectations regarding Turnbull’s capacity and sensitivity have been super-charged, courtesy of his loving wife Lucy Turnbull who circularised his electorate of Wentworth, extolling her husband’s virtues before the 2004 election.

She did it again in late October, gushing that Malcolm ‘cares deeply about people and ideas on how to make a better and fairer society It’s not about getting or keeping a job It’s about making a contribution and giving something back’.

Long-time Wentworth resident Geoff Dwyer voted for Turnbull in 2004. In Lucy’s 2004 letter he saw hope, but in Lucy’s 2007 letter he saw red.

Dwyer is a bank victim, from the peculiarly aggrieved subset of small business victims given foreign currency loans in the mid-1980s. Worse, under the pressure of losing everything, his wife Susan, on medication long-term, had a seizure and lapsed into a coma in 1989. Dwyer and his mother cared for his comatose wife at home until she died early this year.

For years, Dwyer has been hoping for some intercession regarding his case with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia that would, no doubt, prefer to see him disappear into history. Dwyer and other members of the Foreign Currency Borrowers Association did achieve a meeting with John Hewson when he was the local Member and Leader of the Opposition. Nothing eventuated. Dwyer even gained support and publicity from the succeeding local Member, Andrew Thompson.

After Thompson moved to the government benches there was dissembling, then silence.

And then, along came Malcolm Turnbull. Lucy’s 2004 letter proffered a can-do dynamo. Simultaneously, I had been preparing material that was completed in late 2005 outlining the disdainful treatment by the courts of the little guy involved in bank litigation, and, in particular, the circus that was Dwyer’s two (failed) court cases against the Commonwealth Bank.

Armed with this and other material, Dwyer went to Turnbull’s office in February 2006. Dwyer left the material, requesting a meeting. There was no response.

Dwyer subsequently contacted Andrew Rogers, previously a NSW Supreme Court judge who had presided over foreign currency loan cases. Rogers understood the borrowers’ plight and expressed sympathy for Dwyer’s situation, but claimed that the only solution was a political one. Rogers undertook to refer Dwyer to his friend, Turnbull. No outcome.

The ex-Democrat Senator Paul McLean, rare champion against bank malpractice in Parliament, wrote to Turnbull on Dwyer’s behalf in August 2006. No response.

Dwyer wrote to Turnbull in December 2006. No response.

Dwyer wrote again to Turnbull in March 2007 (noting that his wife had just died after 18 years in a coma). Ditto.

And then came the second Lucy letter in late October, extolling Malcolm’s passion for the job. Dwyer wrote a letter to Mrs Turnbull regarding her husband’s non-responsiveness to his supplications. No response.

Lucy’s letter included a telephone number inviting constituents to call. Dwyer rang the number several times, but nobody was at the other end.

The Sydney Morning Herald‘s Phillip Coorey ran a story on the Lucy circular. Dwyer rang Coorey who, from Brisbane, passed the issue to colleague Paul Bibby. Bibby saw a story here, and eventually tracked down Lucy Turnbull. Out of the blue, Dwyer received a letter from Lucy expressing condolences regarding Dwyer’s wife. But no mention of the bank thingy.

In her letter to the voters of Wentworth, Lucy Turnbull had neglected to say that politicians do not do banks. Gunns might own Tasmania, but banks own the country. Banks are effectively above the law. A caveat along these lines might have been appropriate to keep Mrs Turnbull’s letter within the Truth in Advertising electioneering code. But where would that have left the claim of Malcolm’s status, as a man above the pack?

Several days later, Malcolm himself called Dwyer’s home, with Dwyer’s mother answering the phone. Dwyer did not return the call, questioning the motives of the belated response.

Meanwhile, Bibby prepared an article on this cameo of electoral politics. But the article went upstairs and has since disappeared into the self-censorship ether. It was decreed that space was not available, that too much attention had already been paid to the Wentworth electorate.

Politicians do not do banks. What the media does not do is a continuing source of amazement. But one thing is clear some constituents are more equal than others.

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