Former immigration minister new Australian PM

New Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison
New Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Image:

After a tumultuous week in Australian politics, a former immigration minister has emerged as the country’s new prime minister. But it’s not the one most people had their eyes on.

The other guy

Having already challenged sitting prime minister Malcolm Turnbull for the leadership in a failed leadership spill earlier in the week, former Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton challenged again on Friday. But in a stunning turn of events, it was another former Liberal Party immigration minister, Scott Morrison, who emerged triumphant, winning by a 45-40 margin.

Mr Turnbull, who himself had assumed leadership in similar fashion in September 2015 when he ousted former party leader and Prime Minister Tony Abbott, has vowed to quit politics. This will necessitate a by-election in his Sydney-based electorate.

It spells difficult times ahead for Mr Morrison, who inherits a deeply divided party that enjoys a majority of only one seat in parliament. That majority will be tested when Turnbull’s seat gets put to the vote.

Morrison was Minister for Immigration and Border Protection between 18 September 2013 and 23 December 2014, during the prime ministership of Tony Abbott. He was succeeded in that role by Peter Dutton in a cabinet reshuffle. After a stint as Minister for Social Services, he has most recently been federal treasurer.

Border strongman

Operation Sovereign Borders, a Liberal-led government strategy aimed at stopping unauthorised boat arrivals in Australia, was launched by Morrison as immigration minister on the day of his appointment as immigration minister.

In September 2014, it was reported that no asylum seeker had died at sea since December 2013, compared with more than 1,100 deaths between 2008 and 2013.

Although considered successful in achieving its policy aims, the strategy was mired in controversies over its possible contravention of the Refugee Convention, human rights violations, and Morrison’s lack of transparency with the media in relation to operational details.

The Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014, which was passed by parliament in early December 2014, gave Morrison the power to return asylum seekers to their place of origin.

Although considered a ‘compromise’ between moderate Turnbull and conservative Dutton, Morrison’s immigration track record suggests that his approach to the border will likely lean closer to Dutton’s hard line.

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