Scott Morrison Replaces Turnbull As Australia Prime Minister

by Bamidele Ogunberu Posted on August 24th, 2018

Canberra, Australia :  Scott Morrison has been selected as Australia’s new Prime Minister after winning the ruling conservative party ballot on Friday.

The relative moderate and ally of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull won the vote on Friday that capped days of chaos in the capital and underscored just how turbulent Australian politics has become.

Scott Morrison, who has been serving as the country’s treasurer, is set to become the sixth prime minister in 11 years after the vote by the governing party’s lawmakers. The vote was the second challenge this week to the leadership of Mr. Turnbull — who himself assumed office by leading a party revolt in 2015.

Mr. Morrison, 50, will lead the conservative party, which is known as the Liberal Party, in a general election expected in the coming months. He had backed Mr. Turnbull earlier in the week, but he later emerged as a more moderate alternative to Peter Dutton, a former home affairs minister known for his hard-line stance on immigration. Mr. Dutton mounted the earlier, unsuccessful leadership challenge, on Tuesday.

For Mr. Turnbull, the end came quickly. After months of negotiations, a rift within the party escalated last weekend over an energy proposal from the prime minister, which was meant to reduce electricity prices and address climate change by cutting emissions. Mr. Dutton rallied the party’s conservative wing against him.

The mutiny in the capital, Canberra, was bolstered by opinion polls that showed voters were increasingly dissatisfied with Mr. Turnbull’s leadership. A former investment banker, Mr. Turnbull had often been criticized for weak leadership — arguing for moderate policies that he frequently abandoned or diluted when faced with resistance.

Mr. Morrison defeated Peter Dutton, the former home affairs minister, in the final ballot, winning 45 votes to Mr. Dutton’s 40. Julie Bishop, the foreign minister, dropped out of the vote after coming third in a previous ballot.

Jill Sheppard, a lecturer in politics at the Australian National University, said Mr. Morrison was among the most conservative members of the Liberals’ moderate wing. “He has managed to straddle factions in the Liberal Party really nicely in the last couple of decades,” she said.

Other analysts said the fact that Mr. Morrison was regarded as a moderate only showed how dramatically conservative politics have shifted to the right in Australia.

“It’s just extraordinary that Scott Morrison is the moderate candidate,” said Susan Harris-Rimmer, a law professor at Griffith University. “He is an extremely conservative law-and-order person.”

Like Mr. Dutton, Mr. Morrison rose to prominence over his tough stance on immigration. After a boat carrying dozens of asylum seekers sank in 2011, Mr. Morrison courted outrage by calling it a waste of taxpayer money for the Australian government to help pay for relatives to attend funerals.

“Any other Australian who wanted to attend a funeral of someone who died in tragic circumstances would have to put their hand in their own pocket,” he said.

In 2013, he became minister of immigration and border protection under then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott. In that post, he worked aggressively to stop asylum seekers from reaching Australia by boat, continuing the country’s contentious zero-tolerance policy toward such migration. One of Australia’s tactics, offshore detention, has been roundly condemned by human rights groups and the United Nations.

Mr. Morrison became treasurer in 2015, after a brief stint as minister of social services. Faced with a revenue shortfall, he preferred cutting spending to raising taxes, analysts said.

“That’s a straight-down-the-line conservative approach.” said Richard Holden, a professor of economics at the University of New South Wales. “He’s been O.K. in a difficult set of circumstances without showing real vision.”

Professor Sheppard said Mr. Morrison was unlikely to be a visionary leader. “He won’t probably set out any kind of expansive view for Australia,” she said.

An observant Pentecostal Christian and the son of a police officer, Mr. Morrison grew up in a beachside suburb of Sydney. Before being elected to Parliament in 2007, he oversaw tourism campaigns, including a contentious one for Australia with the slogan “Where the bloody hell are you?.” It was banned from British television.

Not a single Australian prime minister has completed his or her full term in more than a decade. The frequent upheavals, experts said, have left foreign allies uncertain and voters angry when elected leaders are ousted in back-room coups. And compared to previous “spills,” as they are known, this week’s contest was especially messy and unpredictable.

“The leadership churn is unprecedented. No prime minister since John Howard, who lost office in 2007, has served a full term in office,” said Michael Fullilove, executive director of the Lowy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. “Governments seem incapable of exercising their authority. They spend most of their time in survival mode.”

For his part, Mr. Turnbull suggested he would resign from Parliament if he was deposed. If he follows through, his vacant seat will be contested in a by-election that could threaten the Liberal Party’s majority in Parliament when it reconvenes Sept. 10.

“The public hate what is going on at the moment,” Mr. Turnbull said, referring to Australia’s frequent leadership changes. “They want everyone here to be focused on them.”


Bamidele Ogunberu

Bamidele Ogunberu

Staff Writer

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