Malcolm Turnbull has spent much of his career in the company of “hot-metal men”.
The former prime minister has been around journalists and newspaper bosses since legendary Sunday Times editor Harold Evans heard him speak at a Cambridge Union debate in the late 1970s, offering the Australian law student a job the next day.
Decamped to New York after the August 24 Liberal Party leadership ballot, Mr Turnbull caught up with his former boss in Manhattan on Friday, recalling Mr Evans told him to stop studying law because it was “boring”.
Employed two years later, Mr Evans famously gave Mr Turnbull a two-volume manual on newspaper editing and layouts, inscribed with “a warm welcome to the grubby ranks of the hot-metal men”.
Despite this week’s reunion, Mr Turnbull could be forgiven for having another media boss on his mind.
The Australia Financial Review’s Rear Window column revealed key details of Mr Turnbull’s downfall on Tuesday, confirming News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch had helped bring on the coup when he told Seven West proprietor Kerry Stokes a change was needed at The Lodge.
“Malcolm has got to go,” Mr Murdoch told his billionaire peer, in an exchange later picked up by all of Australia’s major news outlets, including the ABC.
When Mr Stokes said a leadership challenge would guarantee a Labor government within a year, Mr Murdoch replied: “They’ll only be in for three years – it won’t be so bad. I did all right under Labor and the painters and dockers; I can make money under Shorten and the CFMEU.”
‘Spin from parties’
Mr Murdoch had earlier denied to Mr Turnbull that his empire of tabloids, websites and Sky News was campaigning for change at the top, save for the front page of The Australian.
Mr Stokes this week denied any role in the leadership instability, telling the ABC’s political editor Andrew Probyn there was “spin from parties attempting to re-write history” at play.
After beating challenger Peter Dutton in the eventual vote to become Australia’s 30th prime minister, Mr Morrison partially pushed back on the reports that the media moguls could have contributed to Mr Turnbull’s downfall.
Asked about Mr Murdoch’s presence in Australia in the days leading up to the challenge during a press conference in the Blue Room at Parliament House on Wednesday, he said he didn’t believe Mr Stokes and Mr Murdoch had played “a heavy hand” in the leadership spill.
“I don’t think it happened,” the Prime Minister said. “I don’t believe it happened at all and you’d think I’d know given I was involved.”
Another beneficiary of the leadership chaos, newly elected deputy Liberal leader and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was also dismissive of the issue on Friday.
“No,” he said, when asked if interventions by the two men had contributed to the frenzied events in Canberra.
With Mr Evans’ trailblazer wife – former New Yorker and Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown – watching on at Friday’s event, Mr Turnbull recalled him saying there was only one thing worse than a career in the law.
“You could end up becoming a politician.”