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#Libspill: Scott Morrison In, Trust of the Australian People Out

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On August 24, 2018, MP for Cook, Scott Morrison, became the 30th Prime Minister of Australia. This makes Morrison the 6th Australian PM in 11 years.

On Tuesday, August 21, then-Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton attempted to wrest control of the Liberal Party from then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, claiming that Turnbull no longer held the confidence of the Liberal Party.

Several days of rumours about a petition for Dutton to replace Turnbull raised frustrations in the Australian public as Parliament was adjourned, initially for two weeks, for the party to figure out exactly who would lead it.

This led Turnbull to announce that he would allow a vote for a new leader and stand aside to allow any interested Minister to vie for the role. And that is how, despite all the media coverage telling us the fight was between Dutton and Turnbull, Scott Morrison swept in on the final day to claim the title for himself.

So why did #Libspill happen? Why Scott Morrison? Where to now?

According to the Liberal Party, the leadership spill came about due to “policy, not personality.”

Disputes focused on centre and far-right conservative MPs over the planned National Energy Guarantee (NEG), designed to meet Australia’s energy reduction targets from the Paris Climate Accords. In an attempt to appease those opposed to the NEG, Turnbull gutted the policy, removing any mention of climate change policy.

Turnbull’s other key policy promise, the cutting of taxes for big businesses, was also rejected last week. This left Turnbull virtually incapable of delivering on the two policies promised in his election campaign and raised questions about his effectiveness as a leader.

But if you think about it, this justification doesn’t fly. Malcolm Turnbull was elected leader of the Liberal Party to bring the party back to a more centre-right position and deliver on policies asked for by the people. Turnbull’s infamous views on environmental policy have landed him in hot water in the Liberal Party before, and as Prime Minister he has consistently bowed to the demands of the more conservative members of his party – but to no avail. Even after removing all substantive climate change policy from the NEG, Turnbull was ousted. Do his actions show him to be a coward? Yes. But do they show that there was a valid policy reason to evict him? Not really. This was personal.

It remains to be seen what his successor, PM Scott Morrison, will do in regard to environmental policy in his first term as PM.

Who is Scott Morrison?

Morrison succeeded on Friday for a very clear reason – not every Liberal Party member believed that Dutton, a right-wing conservative, Nauru detention centre-operating, environmentally unconscious minister, would lead the Liberal Party to success in the next Federal election.

But the “at least it’s not Dutton,” mentality currently held by many Australians could prove dangerous because Morrison is no stranger to controversy. Morrison worked on the Stop the Boats campaign, assisted with the operation of Nauru detention centre, forcefully opposed the legalisation of LGBTI marriage, and famously brought a lump of coal into Parliament House saying “do not be afraid” about Australia’s coal industry.

After a successful career in tourism which involved campaigns such as the infamous “so where the bloody hell are you?” and “100% New Zealand,” Scott Morrison was elected in 2008 to the seat of Cook.

Morrison was the perfect ally to every Prime Minister with whom he served – until the next one came along. Morrison served first as shadow minister for housing and local government for Malcolm Turnbull, then as shadow minister for immigration and citizenship for the Abbot opposition.

When Abbott became Prime Minister, Morrison launched and strongly supported Operation Sovereign Borders before moving to the Ministry of Social Services to soften his hard-line reputation. Turnbull’s win over Abbott in the last Liberal Party leadership spill, was aided by Morrison’s support of Turnbull and in return, Morrison received the high-level position of treasurer. Morrison’s support of Turnbull in the past week is in large part why he won over Dutton, as his support for the centre-right PM gave him a less conservative appearance compared to Dutton.

Now that he’s in the top job, it will be interesting to see his priorities unfold in the next few months and meet the real Morrison, the one that isn’t still trying to climb higher on the ladder – he’s as high as he can go.

Regaining trust

Australia has made it pretty clear that the Liberal party needs to regain its trust, and youth in particular are demanding change. Daniel, 22, from Darwin, told Chattr he was dissatisfied with the way in which Liberal Party leaders can change without an election taking place, and with the sheer number of changes he has witnessed in the past decade. And he’s not alone.

This issue of leadership changes outside of an election was addressed by the Labour Party several years ago after the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd leadership spills highlighted the need to restrict them, at least while the party is in power as the Liberal Party is now. The Liberal party has not made the same changes.

The Liberal Party is not obliged to have these rules in place – the way in which the Australian system works allows the public to vote in a party, not a specific leader as in the American presidential election system, and therefore the party can select a new leader at any time – but enforcing limits on the number of leadership changes that can occur outside of an election would be a good way to restore some faith in the system.

Another cause for concern is the consistent vilification of environmental policymaking in federal politics. For many years now, public demand for comprehensive environmental policy has been obvious, yet any leader attempting to pass legislation ends up ousted from office. Alex, 23, from Wollongong, said “it’s so crazy how the government gets so crippled when it comes to environmental reform.”

The Australian Bureau of Statistics found that 82% of Australian adults were concerned about the environment way back in 2010, and public interest in environmental issues has only increased; yet environmental policymaking has toppled the past seven Australian prime ministers in one way or another, from Howard’s attempt to design an emissions trading scheme that led to Kevin Rudd’s victory in 2007, to Julia Gillard’s carbon tax that led to her downfall.

Concern has been expressed that PM Morrison will not be willing to improve Australia’s environmental policy, as he has already stated that he will be continuing with current plans for the NEG – the one that’s had anything of worth removed, that is. Then there’s the coal incident, which is still pretty fresh in everyone’s minds.

Public frustration at #libspill has reach such heights that Australia has resorted to doing what it does best – paying out politicians on Twitter.

Now that Turnbull has announced his retirement from politics, his seat of Wentworth will be left vacant, triggering a by-election that the Liberal Party may not win after last week’s antics. It could be that Morrison has just clinched a Prime Ministership over a minority government. This would give Morrison the tough job of proving his effectiveness as a Prime Minister by the time campaigning starts for the Federal election to be held next May.