19 April 2016
by Neil McMahon

Malcolm Turnbull did a deal to become prime minister, John Hewson tells Q&A

Former Liberal leader John Hewson invoked the "old Malcolm" on Q&A.

Former Liberal leader John Hewson took to the ABC's Q&A on Monday night to declare Malcolm Turnbull did a deal to win power - and to call the PM's election strategy a gamble - as the program's audience and panel dissected the prime minister's fall from public favour ahead of a July 2 election.

"I think Turnbull is taking quite a big risk actually. I was very surprised he didn't go to an election almost straight away when he became leader. I think he could have said, 'Look, I don't have a mandate', set some broad directions and I think he would have done very well in that election.

"Since then of course his popularity has waned, his net satisfaction rating is now negative, it is 50-50 I guess in the polls … I think it's a close contest. I think (Labor leader Bill) Shorten is a person who runs on confidence, he's had a bit of a boost to his confidence in recent days so he's looking slightly better while Turnbull's been struggling."

Commenting on Mr Turnbull's decision to frame the election around the Senate's rejection of a bill to bring back the Australian Building and Construction Commission, Mr Hewson said: "I'm not sure you can sustain that … for an entire campaign. I think other issues will come to the fore. They tend to go back to issues of education and health. Important issues."

Mr Hewson said the prime minister's popularity had taken a hit in part because he has disappointed his more progressive supporters and had compromised with right-wing Liberals to get the top job.

"Look, obviously Malcolm did a deal to get there and the deal he did actually compromised some of the basic positions that he'd previously held and held publicly. There's a fellow running in the seat of Wentworth, my old seat, against Malcolm, who just wants the old Malcolm to come back. The guy that stood for gay marriage … and climate change and tax reform and so on. And I think that's been a major reason why his popularity has collapsed."

The panel - featuring Mr Hewson, Liberal MP and Government Whip Ewen Jones, Labor senator Alannah MacTiernan, journalist Caroline Overington and social commentator Jane Caro - debated Mr Turnbull's popularity and performance, the opposition's call for a royal commission into the banks, controversy over the alleged child abduction involving 60 Minutes, and ended with a passionate discussion on euthanasia.