Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Australia's Trumpian Turn: The Ruthless Rise of Scott Morrison

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Australia's Trumpian Turn: The Ruthless Rise of Scott Morrison

Article excerpt

When the new Australian prime minister Scott Morrison delivered his maiden parliamentary speech in 2008, he penned the kind of muscular Christian screed that could easily have been written by Tony Blair at his most messianic, or a charity worker applying to head up Oxfam. Morrison paid homage to the first Australians in his constituency, the Gweagal people of the Dharawal nation, spoke of his admiration for Bishop Desmond Tutu and William Wilberforce, and even quoted the U2 frontman Bono. Then, he made an impassioned plea for increased aid to Africa.

In the decade since, a politician dubbed "ScoMo" has performed something of a "Bo]o", lurching from the centre to the right in preparation for a Liberal Party leadership bid, and using unease about immigration and Muslims to propel his candidacy.

On 24 August, the former Australian treasurer's scheming came to fruition when he was sworn in as the country's sixth prime minister in just 11 years. This followed the ruthless ousting of predecessor Malcolm Turnbull, a conservative centrist considered too mushy, metropolitan and enthusiastically multicultural for a Liberal Party that is increasingly illiberal.

For the Australian right, the 50-year-old Morrison has become a trusted fellow traveller: a social conservative who voted against equal marriage in last year's referendum; a former immigration minister who managed to halt unauthorised asylum seeker vessels heading towards Australia's shores after vowing to "Stop the Boats". Few remember or recognise the Bono-quoting freshman.

It is a measure of how far Australian conservatism has moved towards the Trumpian fringes that Morrison was considered the mainstream candidate in the Liberal leadership contest. In the party "spill", he vanquished the home affairs minister Peter Dutton, a humourless former policeman who has championed white farmers in South Africa, demonised Somalian gangs in Melbourne and revelled in criticism from human rights groups over asylum seekers held captive in offshore detention centres. Dutton wielded the knife against Turnbull. Yet in the cannibalistic bloodbath that followed, it was Morrison who staggered out of the party room alive.

The Sydneysider first achieved success, rather ironically, in the tourism industry. As the head of Tourism Australia, he oversaw the notorious "So, Where the Bloody Hell Are You?" campaign, which was initially banned in Britain. …

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