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Australia's new prime minister battles rich, privileged tag

Australia's new prime minister Malcolm Turnbull battles wealthy, out-of-touch image

Australia's new prime minister battles rich, privileged tag

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- Australia's new prime minister has long battled a public perception that his wealth puts him out of touch with ordinary folk. His nickname is "The Silvertail," a pejorative Australian term for the privileged elite, and cartoonists often depict him wearing a top hat.

Malcolm Turnbull, the 60-year-old, self-made multimillionaire who was sworn in as prime minister on Tuesday, now faces the challenge of revamping his image to a wary public after his conservative Liberal Party colleagues voted for him to replace Tony Abbott as the nation's leader.

The reaction from some to the change in leadership -- which marked the nation's fourth prime minister in just over two years -- was predictably cynical.

"With Malcolm, it will always be about Malcolm," opposition leader Bill Shorten said. "Australians rejected Malcolm Turnbull when he was opposition leader because he was out of touch and he was arrogant -- and he hasn't changed."

Deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek accused Turnbull of having a "slick merchant banker approach to public life." And the Northern Territory News, Australia's most colorful newspaper, was the bluntest of all: "RICH DUDE BECOMES PM," blared its front page headline.

Still, opinion polls have shown that the moderate Turnbull is more popular than the ultra-conservative and gaffe-prone Abbott.

"This is a turn of events I did not expect, I have to tell you," Turnbull told reporters. "But it's one that I'm privileged to undertake and one that I'm certainly up to."

Turnbull wasn't born into privilege. His father, Bruce Turnbull, was a Sydney hotel broker who became a single father after his wife, Coral Lansbury -- a radio actress, academic and cousin of the British actress Angela Lansbury -- abandoned the family when Turnbull was 9 years old.

He attended Sydney Grammar School and the University of Sydney before attending Brasenose College, Oxford, as a Rhodes scholar.

Turnbull became a household name in Australia as a lawyer in the 1980s when he succeeded in blocking a British government attempt to prevent Australian publication of "Spycatcher," a memoir by former British intelligence officer Peter Wright.

He also worked as a journalist, investment banker and venture capitalist before he was elected to Parliament in 2004 to represent the Sydney electoral division of Wentworth, the wealthiest in Australia. Turnbull was the richest member of Parliament until mining magnate Clive Palmer was elected in 2013.

Turnbull was party leader for two years before he was ousted in 2009 by Abbott by a single vote in a similar leadership ballot. He was always assumed to have his eye on the top political prize, which he has achieved in a relatively quick 11 years.

He led the Australian Republican Movement, which argues for severing Australia's constitutional ties with Britain and appointing an Australian citizen as president. The status quo was maintained in a referendum in 1999, largely because Australians were divided over whether the president should be appointed by the government or popularly elected. His sometimes abrasive style was blamed by some as contributing to the referendum's failure.

Turnbull's wife, Lucy Turnbull, is a former Lord Mayor of Sydney and her father, Tom Hughes, is a prominent Sydney lawyer and a former Attorney-General in a conservative federal government.

Updated : 2021-09-22 02:26 GMT+08:00