Scott Morrison is Australia's new PM after another bitter intraparty fight

Australian government lawmakers on Friday elected Treasurer Scott Morrison as prime minister in a ballot that continues an era of extraordinary political instability.

Outgoing PM Turnbull says he'll quit politics, which could threaten Liberals' razor-thin margin

Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison, centre, was picked as the new prime minister after a Liberal Party coup. (David Gray/AFP/Getty Images)

Australian government lawmakers on Friday elected Treasurer Scott Morrison as prime minister in a ballot that continues an era of extraordinary political instability.

Disgruntled government lawmakers forced former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull from office on Friday, arguing that most had lost faith in his leadership. Turnbull became the fourth prime minister dumped by their own party since 2010 in an extraordinary period of political instability that frustrates most Australians.

Morrison distanced himself from the turmoil, saying he had not been part of the push led by fellow lawmaker Peter Dutton to oust Turnbull over four chaotic days that was inspired by a feud between hard-right conservatives and moderates.

"We will provide the stability, and the unity, and the direction and the purpose that the Australian people expect of us," Morrison told reporters.

"The work of government continues. I want to assure all Australians that those normal wheels are turning."

Elections due next year

The political civil war has shocked business and industry that want crucial energy and tax policy reforms finalized. It's also an international embarrassment for a nation that prides itself on being a safe and stable democracy in which to invest.

Malcolm Turnbull, the outgoing prime minister,had been in an intense leadership struggle with former cabinet minister Peter Dutton, though in the end, neither ended up with the leadership. (Lukas Coch/AAP Image via AP)

It is not clear who if anyone will take Turnbull's place on an important trip he planned next week to regional neighbours Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam that would end at an annual forum of 18 Pacific island nations on Nauru on Sept. 5.

Morrison has been dubbed the "accidental prime minister" because he had no plans to nominate until Thursday, when Turnbull declared he would not recontest his job. Morrison on Friday declined to detail any policy changes that he might make.

He played down speculation that he might call an election before it's due early next year.

"We intend to be governing ... so I don't think anybody should be making any plans for any elections any time soon," Morrison said.

Turnbull said he would quit politics "not before too long."

His resignation would cause a byelection that could cost the government its single-seat majority. It could also provide an incentive to call an early election.

Dutton not the chosen one

Turnbull, a centrist leader who takes credit for Australia legalizing gay marriage, blamed his downfall on a campaign by hard-right lawmakers backed by "powerful voices" in the conservative media.

"There was a determined insurgency from a number of people," Turnbull said. "It was extraordinary. It was described as madness by many and I think it's difficult to describe it in any other way."

Dutton's failure prevents Australian policy shifting to the hard right. (Rod McGuirk/Associated Press)

Turnbull said he was impressed by his party's decision not to reward Dutton and to elect Morrison, whom he descried as a "very loyal and effective treasurer." Morrison defeated Dutton 45 votes to 40.

Dutton's failure prevents the Australian policy shifting to the hard right, although there has been little policy discussion in the leadership struggle.

Dutton later suggested that the crisis was driven by personalities rather than policy differences.

"For me, I only ever nominated because I believed I was a better person and a person of greater strength and integrity to lead the Liberal Party," Dutton told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop had been among the favourites and could have become Australia's second female prime minister. She was rejected on the first round of voting.

Morrison was officially sworn in as prime minister later Friday and his Deputy Leader Josh Frydenberg as treasurer, Morrison's old portfolio. Morrison said the rest of his cabinet would be sworn in next week.

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop could have been Australia's second female prime minister, but was eliminated during the first round of voting. (David Gray/Reuters)

Dutton's and Turnbull's camps waged the most chaotic, frenetic and at times farcical leadership struggle that Australian politics has seen in years, closing down parliament on Thursday so that the government could focus on it its rapidly escalating internal crisis.

Parliament does not sit again until Sept. 10.

Turnbull's leadership was vulnerable because his government was trailing in opinion polls. Analysts expect the polling to worsen due to the clumsy and bungled way the leadership was challenged.

Touts Christian values

Morrison is seen by some as an incongruous mix of a committed Christian who made his name through ratcheting up a refugee policy that many church groups have condemned as inhumane.

His tough stance on asylum seekers bewildered some observers, given his devout Christian beliefs.

New Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison poses with wife Jenny Morrison and daughters after being sworn in by Gov. Gen. Sir Peter Cosgrove on Friday in the capital of Canberra. (Martin Ollman/Getty Images)

Morrison rose to public prominence when the conservative coalition government was first elected under Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2013 as the minister who stopped asylum seekers from attempting to reach Australian shores by boat.

Australia uses the navy to turn boats back to Indonesia, or banishes refugees to remote immigration camps on the poor Pacific island nations of Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

The policy has been widely condemned as a callous abrogation of Australia's international obligations to help refugees. Australia's human rights watchdog found in 2014 that Morrison failed to act in the best interests of asylum seeker children in detention.

Morrison explained his deep belief in the righteousness of crushing the people-smuggling trade and preserving the safety of people who board rickety boats to take the long and treacherous voyage to Australia.

But his empathy came under question when he criticized a former government's decision in 2010 to pay asylum seekers to fly from a remote Christmas Island camp to Sydney to attend funerals after 48 died in a boat disaster.

The 50-year-old former tourism marketer, known to his colleagues as ScoMo, is also passionate about his Sydney Pentecostal church and his local Rugby League football team, Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks.

Before politics, he made a splash as managing director of Tourism Australia in 2006, when he approved a 180-million Australian dollar ($171.5-million Cdn) advertising campaign to attract visitors Down Under with a bikini-clad model on an Aussie beach who asked: "So where the bloody hell are you?"

Morrison, left, is shown in Tokyo in April 2005 while on a campaign in his capacity as Tourism Australia managing director. (Toshiyuki Aizawa/Reuters)

The campaign was temporarily banned in Britain because of complaints about the choice of language.

But Australia's first Pentecostal prime minister is staunch social conservative.

He proved out of step with most Australians last year when he unsuccessfully campaigned against Australia legislating to allow gay marriage. The same-sex marriage was overwhelming endorsed in a government-commissioned postal survey.

"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 in his first speech to parliament in 2007.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this article referred to the leadership battle as being interparty. In fact, it was an intraparty battle.
    Aug 24, 2018 8:43 AM ET

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