Australia's new PM is Scott Morrison, a pentecostal political chameleon

Australia is set to have a new prime minister, again, with the ...

Posted: Aug 24, 2018 5:26 PM
Updated: Aug 24, 2018 5:26 PM

Australia is set to have a new prime minister, again, with the Liberal Party's Scott Morrison on track to become the country's 30th premier following his victory in a leadership vote on Friday.

Morrison, a notoriously ambitious political chameleon, is deemed by some analysts to be a centrist able to unite the troubled ruling Liberal Party after the ouster of former leader Malcolm Turnbull.

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Australian commentators have long wrangled over who the real Scott Morrison is, but the question has become more acute now that he's about to assume the top job.

He is expected to be sworn in as prime minister by the country's governor general at some point in the coming hours and days.

Over the years, Morrison has undergone a transformation from a right-wing evangelical immigration minister to a wonky, staid treasury minister attempting to show his more human side.

"Is he the cynical pollie who reportedly called, in a shadow cabinet for the Liberal Party, to exploit fears over Muslim immigrants (for political gain)?' asked Nick Bryant, a journalist and expert on Australian politics. "Or the MP who completed the Kokoda trail as part of a mateship trek that included young Muslims from the western suburbs?"

Privilege and religion

The son of a policeman, Morrison was born in 1968 in Bronte, a wealthy eastern beach suburb of Sydney. From there, he attended Sydney Boys High School and the University of New South Wales. He studied economics and geography.

A dedicated Pentecostal Christian, he met his future wife, Jenny, at church, when he was 12 years old. His faith has long inspired interest as it appeared to be at odds with his tough stance on immigration in his political life.

He worships at an American-style mega-church that has close ties to the global Pentecostal Hillsong community movement, Bryant told CNN.

The Australian Christian Lobby congratulated Morrison on his leadership victory Friday. "(We) trust Scott Morrison will demonstrate the strong leadership required for a new era of political stability," tweeted the group.

Tourism put him on the map

Morrison's political career began after he worked for years developing government tourism in Australia and New Zealand.

In 2000, he became the state director of the New South Wales Liberal Party, and won praise for his organizational skills.

His tourism experience was useful in 2004 when he was appointed chief executive of Tourism Australia. His controversial but successful 'Where the bloody hell are you?' advertising campaign was criticized by the British advertising regulator owing to its coarse language.

Entering politics in 2007, Morrison secured a seat in the federal parliament after a dirty pre-selection fight in which his rival was smeared in national newspapers. But the saga sealed his reputation as an uncompromising bureaucrat and political operator.

Federal career and political opportunity

In his maiden speech, Morrison presented himself as a Liberal moderate, citing Archbishop Desmond Tutu and 19th-century slavery abolitionist William Wilberforce as his heroes.

Malcolm Turnbull, the moderate politician whose job he is now set to inherit, appointed him shadow spokesman for housing and local government in 2008.

But it was a year later that Morrison's hardline stance towards immigration took shape.

He drew criticism when he objected to relatives of asylum seekers killed in a boat tragedy off Christmas Island in December 2010 being flown at taxpayers' expense to attend their loved ones' funerals in Sydney.

In 2013, he became Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, instigating "Sovereign Borders," a highly effective yet controversial initiative aimed at preventing people smuggling and asylum seekers deaths at sea.

Morrison became synonymous with the policy, often appearing on TV repeating the phrase "Stop the boats."

The ABC revealed earlier this year Morrison agreed that Australia's domestic spy agency should delay security checks to try to prevent asylum seekers from being granted permanent protection visas.

'Overweening ambition'

Observers say Morrison has relentlessly pursued his political ambitions, with his sights set on the most high-level jobs.

In 2015, he took over the coveted position of Treasurer, insisting he was happy with the job, while the Sydney Morning Herald questioned if he would be satisfied to serve under Turnbull's leadership.

His political career had been "pockmarked with overweening ambition, the use of others as stepping stones, and some glaring lapses of judgment," the Herald said. "As his past demonstrates, whichever hat Morrison is wearing, it's likely to be with an eye to the next one for his collection."

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