Turnbull, the Machiavellian former Communications Minister, joined Liberal deputy leader Julie Bishop in moving against Abbott, in the belief that the party would suffer electoral defeat if his premiership continued.
But it’s not the first time Turnbull has taken on powerful interests and won.
The coup is the latest twist in the tale of Turnbull’s career, which began with his rise to prominence after successfully defeating Margaret Thatcher’s government in court.
As a lawyer, Turnbull took on the case of former MI5 officer Peter Wright, whose autobiography Spycatcher had prompted a scandal due to sensational allegations of misconduct by the Security Service.
The book quickly became a best seller, with over 400,000 copies sold in the US.
But such was the contention around Wright’s ‘Spycatcher’ that it was banned from being published in England by Thatcher’s government.
It also placed injunctions on the media from reporting Wright’s allegations.
And after pursuing the ban in England, the UK government turned its attention to Australia, where the book was freely available.
Turnbull’s role in leading Wright’s defence in a Sydney court would catapult him into the public eye.
His skilful questioning of senior government figures saw the cabinet secretary Sir Robert Armstrong confess that he had “been economical with the truth”.
And Turnbull’s arguments would persuade the court that the British security services had a dubious legal case, and that banning a book already widely published would be fruitless.
They would go on to inform later rulings on free speech after the Guardian, the Observer and Sunday Times appealed the government’s ban on publication of extracts from the book.
And the subsequent ruling would be cited as case law around Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights governing freedom of expression and information.
Reporting after the UK government was defeated in its efforts by the law lords, the Guardian described the affair as a “two and a half year crusade” by Thatcher.
And Turnbull would go on to document the legal aspects of the case in his own book.
Now though, after seeing off two premiers in differing circumstances, he faces the challenge of being Prime Minister himself.