Scott Morrison the man behind contentious immigration policy

Newly minted Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison with his wife Jenny and their daughters Lily (far left) and Abbey after the swearing-in ceremony in Canberra yesterday.
Newly minted Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison with his wife Jenny and their daughters Lily (far left) and Abbey after the swearing-in ceremony in Canberra yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY • Evangelical Christian Scott Morrison, who emerged as Prime Minister after a bun fight in Australia's ruling party yesterday, is an ambitious man who has always dreamed of the top job.

Behind the scenes of a battle for the leadership of the Liberal Party that erupted this week between ousted PM Malcolm Turnbull and right-wing former policeman Peter Dutton, Mr Morrison was quietly canvassing support among his colleagues.

The hardline former immigration minister, who took credit for "stop the boats" - a harsh policy to prevent asylum-seekers from entering Australia at its sea ports - billed himself as a man of faith and family who could get things done.

The 50-year-old's stealth candidacy reflected aspirations he has had since he entered Parliament in 2007, representing the Sydney seat of Cook - the site of Australia's last race riots.

The son of a policeman, Mr Morrison - known as "ScoMo" - becomes Australia's sixth prime minister in barely 10 years, replacing a man who became the latest in a long line of leaders knifed in the back by their allies.

His supporters point to his success with the immigration portfolio from 2013 to 2014, where he implemented the controversial "Operation Sovereign Borders" to stop asylum-seekers arriving in Australia by boat. They were either sent back to where they had come from or transferred to remote Pacific island camps.

The policy was credited with eliminating sea-borne arrivals.

But it also attracted fierce criticism, fuelled by Mr Morrison's refusal to release details of the military operations to turn back boats, sometimes to countries with dodgy human rights records. Conditions in the camps on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and on Nauru were slammed by rights groups, with some asylum-seekers languishing there for years.

Critics questioned how he reconciled his worn-on-the-sleeve Christian faith with his uncompromising immigration stance.

Born on May 13, 1968, in the beachside Sydney suburb of Bronte, he was the younger of two sons, whose parents ran church youth programmes.

Mr Morrison himself was an active church member, and met his wife Jenny as a young teenager through the church. The pair married when he was 21.

 
 
 

It took 18 years and multiple rounds of in-vitro fertilisation before the first of two children was born, and Mr Morrison dedicated his maiden parliamentary speech to his daughter Abbey Rose.

He worked in the tourism sector at home and in New Zealand before being selected to contest the seat of Cook in 2007.

He credited his win to the "most significant influences on my life - my family and my faith".

After serving as shadow immigration minister, Mr Morrison moved straight into the government job when the Liberal Party took power in 2013. A short stint in the social services portfolio followed, before he took over the Treasury when Mr Turnbull became party leader in September 2015.

Mr Morrison presided over Australia's economy as the government sought to return the budget to surplus and simultaneously cut personal income and small business taxes.

On social issues, he has stood to the right of the more moderate Mr Turnbull, and opposed the legalisation of same-sex marriage last year. But he has also tried to soften his image, appearing on a cooking-with-politicians series that airs on national broadcaster ABC.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2018, with the headline 'Scott Morrison the man behind contentious immigration policy'. Print Edition | Subscribe