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Who is Scott Morrison? The new Australian PM and devout Christian who made his name turning away refugees

Ex-treasurer who headed up 'inhumane' Operation Sovereign Borders to deter asylum seekers replaces Malcolm Turnbull after bitter leadership contest

Joe Sommerlad
Friday 24 August 2018 11:12 BST
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New Australian PM Scott Morrison makes first address after winning party ballot

Scott Morrison has become Australia‘s new prime minister after winning a leadership ballot within the ruling Liberal Party to replace Malcolm Turnbull.

Mr Morrison, 50, the country’s treasurer since 2015, beat challenger Peter Dutton, the home affairs minister, after Mr Turnbull stepped down when his victory over Mr Dutton earlier in the week sparked a slew of cabinet resignations.

He becomes Australia’s sixth leader in 10 years and has a serious task on his hands in healing the rifts within his own party before the next general election, due to be held by May 2019 at the latest.

Matters could get worse for Mr Morrison should Mr Turnbull resign from parliament as he has threatened, an eventuality that would necessitate a by-election and place the party’s perilous one-seat majority in jeopardy.

The new PM has already ruled out calling a snap election, saying his initial focus is on tackling the severe drought that is gripping the east of the country.

“I don’t think anyone should be making any plans for an election any time soon,” he said.

Experts are not expecting any immediate policy shifts from an MP who has held the safe seat of Cook in New South Wales since 2007, although it is thought he might be tempted to speed up a planned programme of personal income tax cuts in order to shore up support before Australians return to the ballot box.

As a man, “ScoMo” represents something of a contradictory figure.

A self-described “netball dad” with two daughters, as well as a loyal season ticket holder with the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks rugby league team, he is conservative by nature and a devout Pentecostal Christian.

“So what values do I derive from my faith? My answer comes from Jeremiah, chapter 9:24: ‘I am the Lord who exercises loving kindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things, declares the Lord’,” he said during his first speech to parliament.

This sits uneasily with the role that made his name, Mr Morrison serving as minister for immigration and border protection under Tony Abbott in 2013.

Here he oversaw Operation Sovereign Borders, which deployed the navy to turn back refugee boats from Indonesia and banished asylum seekers to detention centres on the impoverished Pacific islands of Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

He justified the uncompromising policy, branded “inhumane” by several church groups, by saying his primary concern was ending people trafficking and dissuading refugees from attempting the treacherous journey in rickety crafts.

His criticism of the government in 2010 over a decision to fly Christmas Island detainees to Sydney to attend the funerals of 48 friends and family killed in a sinking disaster at the taxpayers’ expense also led many to question the extent of his Christian compassion.

Scott Morrison was born in Waverley on 13 May 1968 and had a career as a child actor in TV commercials in the 1970s, reportedly advertising Vicks Vapour Rub, among other fine products.

At nine, he was handing out “how to vote” pamphlets on behalf of his father, a policeman turned local councillor and mayor.

After studying applied economic geography at the University of New South Wales, he entered the tourism industry.

In 2004, he achieved some notoriety as managing director of Tourism Australia for approving an $180m (£102m) international advertising campaign based around the slogan, “So Where the Bloody Hell are You?”, banned in Britain for crass language.

After winning his seat in Cook, a predominately white suburban constituency south of Sydney, Mr Morrison has slowly but surely made a name for himself as a steady hand, even if his opposition to renewable energy targets and same-sex marriage have alienated left-leaning members of his own party.

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