Australia's next PM Malcolm Turnbull - rich, famous and ambitious

Rich and famous, combative and ambitious, Malcolm Turnbull has lived a life full of glittering success.

His political career is now at its peak after he secured the ultimate achievement, successfully challenging Tony Abbott for the Liberal leadership and winning the ballot 54-44.

With the government trailing Labor in 30 successive Newspolls and Abbott's personal popularity as prime minister languishing, Turnbull made a move not totally unanticipated.

The 2016 election is less than a year away and with the government's prospects looking increasingly grim, enough of the party's conservatives decided that winning is more likely with Turnbull in charge.

This might have happened sooner.

Turnbull became environment minister under John Howard in his first term in federal parliament and opposition leader in his second term, defeating Brendan Nelson 45-41 on his second attempt in 2008.

He was in turn narrowly defeated 42-41 by Tony Abbott in a leadership spill in December 2009.

That was fundamentally because of his backing for Labor's carbon pollution reduction scheme, forerunner of the carbon tax which proved such a potent issue for Abbott at the 2013 election campaign.

Throughout his career in public life, Turnbull has championed a succession of progressive causes - including the republic, gay marriage, the apology to the stolen generation and climate change - which haven't endeared him to Liberal conservatives.

Malcolm Bligh Turnbull was born in Sydney on October 24, 1954. His mother was Coral Lansbury, author and English literature academic who, after separating from her husband Bruce, worked in the US.

Success came early.

He was a high achiever at Sydney Grammar School, took an arts/law degree from Sydney University and, as a Rhodes Scholar, a second law degree from Oxford.

Tony Abbott is also a Rhodes Scholar. There are other similarities - both went to Sydney University and both worked as journalists.

In 1980, Turnbull married Lucy Hughes, daughter of leading Sydney silk and Gorton government attorney-general Tom Hughes.

The young lawyer became a household name in 1986 with the Spycatcher case in which he defeated the British establishment's attempts to ban the memoir of former MI5 agent Peter Wright.

The communications minister has resigned from cabinet, saying ‘this is not a decision that anyone could take lightly’ Source: 1 NEWS

His cross-examination of Margaret Thatcher's cabinet secretary Sir Robert Armstrong, a masterpiece of brash disrespect, forced a pivotal admission that the British government would lie to protect national security.

The following year, in partnership with Neville Wran and Nicholas Whitlam, he set up a merchant bank which quickly attracted establishment clients.

In 1994 he helped develop the internet provider Ozemail which he later sold for a big profit.

Turnbull chaired the Australian Republican Movement from 1993 to 2000 and was its high profile public face in the 1999 referendum.

When it failed, he savaged John Howard as "the prime minister who broke this nation's heart".

In 2003, as the Liberal Party's federal treasurer, Turnbull ran for preselection against sitting MP Peter King in the inner-Sydney seat of Wentworth and, after furious branch-stacking on both sides, won.

The election turned into a messy three-cornered contest which he only won with preferences from Peter King and $600,000 of his own money spent during the campaign.

When he entered federal parliament in 2004 he was probably, with the exception of Bob Hawke, Australia's best known new MP.

With a fortune of around $140 million (NZ$157m), he was also the richest, though that crown has now passed to Clive Palmer.

Turnbull toyed with the idea of leaving politics after the 2007 election, when Kevin Rudd led Labor to victory.

But, in one of those twists of political fate, John Howard convinced him to stay on.