"A sea of paranoia." The 7 biggest moments from Leigh Sales’ interview with Malcolm Turnbull.

This post deals with mental health issues and suicide, and might be triggering for some readers. If you need help, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

This week, former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull released a new tell-all autobiography.

The memoir titled A Bigger Picture, details his career in politics – the good, the bad and the very ugly.

On Monday night, the former prime minister sat down with journalist Leigh Sales on 7:30 to discuss his memoir. Much of what he said sounded more like an episode of Married At First Sight or Australian Survivor than the inner workings of a federal government. There was talk of aphrodisiacs and being turned on by power, control freaks and a “sea of paranoia”.

From how his last week in office really went down, to his views on Prime Minister Scott Morrison, these are the seven biggest moments from Leigh Sales’ interview with Malcolm Turnbull.

WATCH: You can watch a snippet from Malcolm Turnbull’s interview with Leigh Sales in the video below, post continues.

Video via 7:30 Report

1. Malcolm Turnbull on what the Liberal party has become.

Less than two years after the 2018 leadership spill that saw his political career come to an end, Turnbull believes the “right wing have taken the liberalism out of the Liberal Party”.

He said, “The Liberal Party… it has become so tribalised. The right wing have taken the liberalism out of the Liberal Party and Abbott and his friends and the Murdoch media, the right-wing shock jocks, they would have preferred Bill Shorten to be Prime Minister than me.”

“A Liberal Party that they could not control was not a Liberal Party they wanted to have. It was – it is all about raw power, I’m afraid.”

Turnbull also likened the right-wing operatives in the Liberal Party, including media tycoons Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Stokes, and Alan Jones, to terrorists.

“The right-wing operates in the Liberal Party – and this is something that Morrison has to confront, by the way, because they would do exactly the same to him, if they thought they could. The way they operate is to basically bully and intimidate people. And what they do, they operate like a terrorist. Now, they don’t use guns and bombs, I hasten to add, but it is the technique of terrorism, where you create enough mayhem, enough damage, that people in the middle say, ‘It has got to come to an end, how can I stop this terrible horror?'”


2. Turnbull on the power of politics.

One of the comments that stood out in this interview was Turnbull’s description of working in Canberra as being in a “sea of paranoia”. Ultimately, he believes he put his trust in the wrong people, despite his good intentions.

“The truth is that when I was prime minister, everybody told me not to trust everybody else. There was virtually nobody that I wasn’t being warned against,” he said.

“So you could easily, in that sort of environment – where you are literally being told by this person, “Don’t trust him”, that person “don’t trust her” and that person, “don’t trust any of them” – you could literally become convulsed in a sea of paranoia. I was determined to look past that and place my trust in everybody in order to get the job done and get things done.

On the role power plays in politics, he added, “All my life, I’ve never sought to have power without purpose. Power for power’s sake is what drives far too many people in politics. I would say most people in politics frankly and a huge number of people in the media, it is just power for power’s sake. It turns them on. It is an aphrodisiac, a drug whatever you want to call it.”

“For me, power without purpose was pointless, the idea that you would sit in the prime minister’s chair or the premier’s chair or minister’s chair and not actually get things done seemed to me to be mad. Why wouldn’t you be better off sailing or paddling a kayak or reading a book?”

LISTEN: You can hear Mia Freedman’s interview with former PM Malcolm Turnbull below, post continues after audio.

3. What Malcolm Turnbull thinks of Scott Morrison.

Although Turnbull acknowledged how well the Australian governments, state and federal, have worked in fighting the current global pandemic, he told Sales Prime Minister Scott Morrison is a “lifelong political operator” who undoubtedly played a key role in his downfall.

“I know Scott very well, and he is a lifelong political operator and he is a control freak. So the idea that those people that were voting for Dutton tactically were doing so without his consent and approval is – well, it’s possible, but it’s unlikely. But, Scott has to live with his close allies now.”

He went on to say he always regarded Morrison as his most likely successor.

“Morrison and I are different men, we have different values in some respects, but while we had differences as PM and Treasurer, we’re long-standing friends. We’ve worked closely together, I know him very well – he has got his limitations as well, alright, he is not perfect. But he is a much safer pair of hands than Peter Dutton by far and I always regarded him as my most likely successor.”

4. He never suspected anyone would support Peter Dutton.

Speaking about whether he knew Peter Dutton was planning to take his place as the Liberal Party leader, Turnbull admitted he didn’t twig right until the end.


“It was such an absurd proposition. I didn’t image that he was so deluded as to imagine that our political prospects would be advanced by a change of leadership, and especially to him,” Turnbull told Sales.

“It never occurred to me, frankly, that so many people would support him. I mean, he – he was – if Dutton had become leader, not even Bill Shorten could have lost the election.”

5. He believes Tony Abbott was a terrible leader.

On the topic of former prime minister Tony Abbott, Turnbull didn’t mince his words, calling his leadership “erratic and flaky”. Turnbull also said he considers Abbott’s handling of national security issues to be his most dangerous dealings as prime minister.

“From a national security point of view… just consider this. At a time when terrorism was our biggest domestic security issue, Abbott was determined to ramp up the rhetoric in a way that was calculated to inflame animosity against Muslims, right? And that was his – that was obviously lapped up and echoed by the Murdoch press, who were doing the same thing. That made Australia less safe. It was profoundly dangerous.”

Then, of course, came Turnbull’s thoughts on Abbott’s political relationship with his former Chief of Staff Peta Credlin, who he believes was really the person in charge.

“You were really dealing with Peta and Peta was running the country and that was obvious, and dominating Abbott. So it was as though she felt, “I’ve created you, you’re my creation,” and she felt she owned him. It was a bizarre – a truly bizarre – relationship.”

6. In 2009, Turnbull fell into a deep depression.

Speaking of when he lost the Liberal Party leadership for the first time in 2009, Turnbull told Sales it was a dangerous time for his mental health.

“I started to sink into a very, very deep depression. It was very deep and very dangerous,” he said.


“I’d never given much thought to mental health before. I’d been aware that, you know, people have mental health issues, but I’d never really thought about it a lot. And I felt myself – I felt these thoughts of death, of  self-destruction, coming into my mind unbidden and unwanted. And I couldn’t get them out of my mind and I got sicker and sicker and sicker. It was a terrible time.”

It was at this time he announced his retirement from politics before realising he’d made a mistake. He quickly returned as a way to pull himself up out of the depression, even though it meant plastering on a fake smile every day.

“The moment I made that announcement, I knew it was a mistake. I then changed my mind, and ran again and I ran again in large part to survive, because I felt this was something I could do to claw my way out of this terrible hole, this black hole I’d found myself in.”

“For a while there, I was definitely faking the confidence. I was – it was, you know, it was exhausting. Just to get through a day, it was so bleak.”

7. The moment that made him tear up.

Amongst discussing his political downfall and experience of mental health issues, the only topic that caused Turnbull to become emotional was that of his late-father.

When Sales asked if he’d thought of his father on the day he was elected Liberal Party leader, he said, “It’s hard to talk about him without shedding a tear”.

“He was such an incredible man, my father. What he did for me was provide absolutely unconditional love.”

Turnbull went on to describe what it was like being raised by a single father after his mother left his family when he was young.

“For really critically important years of my life, Bruce brought me up, you know, himself. And he never criticised [my mother]. And she did not – you know, the flat we were living in was sold, the furniture went, you know, she was the major income earner in the family at that time, and things were pretty tough for a while until he got on his feet and did well, but he never, ever criticised her.”

“He literally brainwashed me into believing that she loved me more than any mother ever loved a little boy, ever, that she loved me, that you know, I was so special and important to her, and I believed him. It wasn’t really until I was an adult that it occurred to me that if she cleared out when I was nine, she may not have been quite as maternal as my father represented her to be.”

Malcolm Turnbull’s memoir A Bigger Picture is available now. Feature image: ABC.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you’re based in Australia, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.