Scott Morrison was sworn in Australia’s 30th Prime Minister late Friday evening after prevailing in the eventual Liberal Partyroom meeting over Peter Dutton 45 votes to 40 on the second ballot. Conservatives within the Liberal Party, the media and in the wider community viewed Malcolm Turnbull as a progressive leading what is supposed to be a center-right conservative party. In fact Malcolm Turnbull in his valedictory press conference has Prime Minister said he was proud to lead a progressive Liberal Coalition Government.
For conservatives the number one priority was to remove Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister and Liberal leader. Tony Abbott was considered dream choice but the Liberal MPs had no apatite to bring him back. Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton was not just considered a conservative warrior who stood up to the left in his own portfolio but other cultural issues. Dutton was considered the best realistic conservative option to replace Turnbull.
When Turnbull’s leadership came under serious renewed pressure last week following a backbench revolt over the National Energy Guarantee and a horror Fairfax-Ipsos poll conservative Liberal MPs and commentators in the media rallied around Dutton as their candidate who eventually came on board with their plans to oust Turnbull.
After Turnbull was mortally wounded by the first leadership spill against Peter Dutton conservatives were hopeful a Dutton Prime Minister was imminent. However Malcolm Turnbull had one last political trick up his sleeve delaying a second partyroom meeting taking place until he had the verified signatures of 43 Liberal MPs. This allowed Turnbull to buy time to allow his preferred successor Treasurer Scott Morrison obtain the numbers in a second spill.
Conservatives began raging online that the Liberals had just elected Turnbull 2.0 and they had not listened to their base. However it is worth remembering that although Morrison was elected by party’s moderate faction he is a conservative a heart. Morrison is a Pentecostal Christian who opposed same sex marriage and abstained from the final parliamentary vote due the final bill not properly protecting religious liberty which he has stated is one of his most important values.
Morrison was the first Immigration Minister in the Abbott Government who oversaw Operation Sovereign Borders which stopped the boats after the disastrous border protection arrangements under the Rudd/Gillard Governments. His success in Immigration meant he was given a new challenge in the Social Services portfolio. He was considered the conservative voice of the future, the left despised him and he was popular with the base through his weekly appearances on 2GB with Ray Hadley.
But when Malcolm Turnbull challenged Tony Abbott in September 2015 Scott Morrison refused to back Abbott and his silence was viewed as the main factor that delivered the Prime Ministership to Turnbull. Morrison was made Treasurer, conservatives felt betrayed, Tony Abbott did and believed he had sold out to advance his political career. He ended his weekly appearances with Ray Hadley as a result.
During his three years as Treasurer Morrison became tied to Turnbull’s progressive policies including controversial changes to superannuation. New Deputy Liberal leader Josh Frydenberg was the Energy Minister in the Turnbull Cabinet responsible for designed the dead National Energy Guarantee, further entrenching the perception from conservatives that the new leadership team is simply going to continue the work of the Turnbull Government.
But unlike when he was Treasurer and had to be loyal to his leader as Prime Minister Scott Morrison can now go in his own direction. Conservative commentators Andrew Bolt, Peta Credlin and Paul Murray have said that they are willing to give Morrison the benefit of the doubt given his previous conservative credentials and that removing Turnbull was the main objective.
However in Morrison’s First Ministry he sacked conservative Assistant Minister Michael Sukkar, refused to bring back other senior conservatives such as Eric Abetz and Kevin Andrew. He created a new role outside the Ministry for Tony Abbott: Special Envoy for Indigenous Affairs which appears to be more a ceremonial or honorary position with no real authority. One was created for Barnaby Joyce as Special Envoy for Drought Relief.
Morrison put moderates in key portf0lios with Christopher Pyne as Defence Minister and Marise Payne moving to Foreign Affairs. But young conservatives were promoted with Angus Taylor in Energy and Dan Tehan in Education. On policy he has announced no radical changes and has indicated he will not withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord
Morrison certainly has a lot of work to do and bridges to mend to prove he is worthy of support from conservatives. He has proven himself competent throughout his career. Now that he is unshackled from Turnbull can he unleash his inner conservative? Have your say in our poll below.