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5 things you should know about Australia’s new PM Malcolm Turnbull

Malcolm Turnbull, Australia's prime minister, on Sept. 14, 2015. Malcolm Turnbull, Australia's prime minister, on Sept. 14, 2015.
Malcolm Turnbull, Australia's prime minister, on Sept. 14, 2015. Photograph by Mark Graham—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Australia has just seen yet another leadership change, with challenger Malcolm Turnbull toppling incumbent Tony Abbott to become the country’s 29th prime minister.

Turnbull defeated Abbott 54-44 in a leadership ballot for the Liberal Party – which is actually a center-right leaning political party – and will assume the nation’s top post, which will see its fourth leadership change since 2013. For those who might need a crash course in the life and beliefs of the newest PM Down Under, here’s five things you should know about Turnbull:

1. He has worked as a journalist and lawyer.

Graduating from the University of Sydney with a degree in law and political science, Turnbull’s first introduction to politics was as a reporter for national TV broadcaster Channel Nine and Australian current affairs magazine The Bulletin. He would switch careers and enter law, eventually starting his own law firm, Turnbull McWilliam, in 1986. He was thrust into the worldwide spotlight after he successfully defended Peter Wright, the former MI5 agent, in a case against the British Government, who were looking to suppress publication of Wright’s explosive memoir Spycatcher.

2. He was a successful businessman.

Turnbull has historically been one of the richest politicians in Australia, and in 2010, he became the only politician to make the BRW Rich List with a fortune estimated at around A$186 million ($132 million). He made bank on the strength of his stake in local internet service provider OzEmail, which he sold for around A$60 million to Worldcom in 1999. After his legal career, he would pivot again to a new occupation as an investment banker, starting his own firm in 1987, and then leaving to become co-chairman of Goldman Sach’s Australian unit from 1997 to 2001.

3. He was at the center of Australia’s biggest corporate failure.

Turnbull would become entangled in the collapse of HIH, Australia’s then-second largest insurance company. In December 2000, on the back of bulging debts and marginal solvency, HIH would become the largest corporate collapse in the country’s history, with liquidators estimating losses of up to $5.3 billion. A Royal Commission was established to probe the collapse, and a portion of the inquisition was dedicated to Turnbull, who was the Goldman Sachs head and primary advisor to FAI, an insurance company that HIH took over for a sum of around $300 million in 1998. It was later revealed that FAI’s assets were grossly misstated, and Turnbull was accused of concealing from the FAI board of directors that he was working with FAI CEO Rodney Adler to take the company private. The Royal Commission later declared Turnbull and Goldman Sachs free from any wrongdoing.

4. He was the man in charge of giving Australia faster WiFi.

Before becoming Prime Minister, Turnbull was the country’s Communications Minister, and the man in charge of the National Broadband Network project, which aims to improve the nation’s reputably slow wireless network speeds by refitting the country with fibre optic cables. The project had been marred by cost overruns and delays, and Turnbull’s success in turning the project around has been mixed. On one hand, he has been credited with introducing more transparency into the project and for rolling out service to rural areas. On the other hand, network speeds are no better, the rollout has been said to be far too slow, and Turnbull has been called, by one publication, “the worst-ever Communications Minister”.

5. He is on the side of same-sex marriage and climate change.

Turnbull differs from Abbott on two key issues. Firstly, he is a supporter of same-sex union, writing in a blog post that “I would vote to recognize same-sex unions as a marriage.” Similarly, Turnbull has sought to draw a line on the subject of climate change, contrasting Abbott’s conservative views on the topic with his own. “Abbott’s climate change policy is bullsh*t”, he wrote in an op-ed, calling for a more effective framework to tackle global warming. Both of these issues could come to the forefront now he is Prime Minister, with on-lookers watching closely to see if he acts on past public statements.