My brother is terminally ill with cancer. Malcolm Turnbull is terminally ill with politics. For these two human beings, this Christmas will be a critical time. For one, much loved and innocent, it could well be his last celebration of the birth of Christ. For the other, dismay, disappointment and public disdain should see him shuffled off the national stage.
My brother’s problems started with a lesion in his pancreas. Malcolm’s began with his ego.
The pancreatic tumour could have been excised, but it was not discovered before it had metastasised to his liver.
Malcolm’s fatal career infection spread just as fast, and was not detected early. It led to the false assumption, then conviction, that ruthless exercise of legal and commercial skills justified his ambition for national leadership.
For the oncologists, the challenge was to prevent the spread of the disease to the lymphatic system. For Malcolm Turnbull, the task was to remove a competent MP from a blue-ribbon Liberal seat, vault into the shadow cabinet and pretend that the intellectual messiah had arrived to save the party.
Rigorous and tiring tests became a feature of life for my brother, week after week. Blood measurements, scans, x-rays searched for evidence that malignant cells had not migrated to other organs. Cocktails of chemicals were injected to kill those cells.
The virus of hubris ran wild and undetected through Turnbull, who first fell victim to a fraudulent e-mail claim with which he thought to bring down the government. Then his extremist climate views led to his support for its emissions trading scheme, and his removal as leader.
In the hospital, numbers mark the progress of the battle. White blood cell counts tick off the scores for neutrophils, lymphocytes, eosinophils. Platelets, which control coagulation, need to be kept within the 150-450 range, but are savagely attacked by the chemo treatment.
Likewise, polls mark the political health of a leader. After thirty Newspoll samples, Malcolm overthrew the incumbent and triumphantly set out to inject “progressive” social and economic toxins into the system.
Despite everything, the malignancy has now spread to the lymph nodes and the lungs. Breathing is becoming difficult, exertion impossible. The chemicals to attack the cancer cells also reduce the haemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying component of the red blood cells. Transfusions are necessary to restore the numbers so the body can stand the battering of the next round of chemo.
The oxygen is leaking out of Malcolm Turnbull too. Fatuous re-design of nuclear submarines, egregious waste on alternative energy, gross mis-judgements in the dual-citizenship crisis, repudiation of promises on religious protections given to win the same-sex marriage vote, then the rash offer of personal tax cuts as a wasteful Keynesian stimulus to a flat economy. All bear witness to the irreversible malaise of a necrotic prime minister.
My brother remains cheerful, pragmatic, optimistic, willing his medical team to succeed in their work to save him.
Malcolm Turnbull has never had more fun in his life. But his political lifeblood is dripping away with every scan of popular opinion.
Their time is running out. One will go with tears and regrets, the other…..
Geoffrey Luck was an ABC journalist for 26 years