He’s the son of a strict policeman from Sydney’s beachside suburb of Bronte, and alumnus of the University of New South Wales. He’s also a former tourism executive, former New South Wales state director of the Liberal Party, and number one fan of the NRL’s Cronulla Sharks. Need another clue? All right. He was the hairy-chested Immigration Minister who stopped the boats.
Scott Morrison has surfed the tide of Australian politics over the past 15 years with aggression and panache, so much so that some people regard him as the heir apparent to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Given the rate at which Australians are burning through PMs these days, well, who knows what might come next and when for the man they call ‘Sco-Mo’.
You probably do not know (and perhaps don’t need to know, but we’ll tell you anyway) that Australia’s 39th treasurer is an avid hat collector who proudly displays caps on his desk from the Immigration Department’s Counter-Terrorism Unit, and the NSW Police, as well a memento slouch hat from his Kokoda Track hike. Not that he’s into macho military stuff or anything.
But no matter how many hats he wears, Morrison is one conservative politician who seems hungry to succeed, no matter that, like the ancient Greek hero Heracles, his bosses keep giving him endless impossible tasks to fulfil. From selling his predecessor Joe Hockey’s 2014 austerity measures as Social Services Minister, to framing his first Federal budget as treasurer as the opening act to a Federal election campaign, Morrison is a diver with a taste for difficult twists.
But his teflon skin has begun to show the scratch marks. Outcry from Liberal voters over his “retrospective” changes to superannuation has seen him defending against criticism that the promise of no adverse changes to superannuation – made by ousted Prime Minister, Tony Abbott – has been broken.
Described by many including the former Liberal member for Indi, Sophie Mirabella, as “the next conservative prime minister”, Mr Morrison admits his rise has come at a cost. In the hurly-burly of leadership ructions he missed out on an appointment as Defence Minister – which, surprise, surprise, he says he would have loved – and his appointment as Treasurer amidst Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership challenge to Tony Abbott was a surprise.
But he’s also been lucky. He secured Liberal preselection for the safe seat of Cook in 2007 in stormy circumstances, losing to Michael Towke, only to have the job fall into his lap when Towke was controversially disendorsed for alleged branch stacking.
His hard-line approach in politics has been noted by many across the country. The veteran journalist Laurie Oakes once declared the government “should avoid the goading and arrogance of Scott Morrison”
Apart from Theodore Roosevelt’s and William Pitt’s political memoirs, Mr Morrison identifies Peter Costello as a source of political inspiration and mentorship.
Away from the stormy seas of Canberra politics, the Sutherland Shire is the Treasurer’s safe harbour. The popular local member enjoys not only the seaside views without refugee boats, but also a margin of more than 15% at the last election.
There is no shortage of praise from the Shire for Mr Morrison. Sutherland Councillor Kent Johns says he holds the “most difficult portfolio in government, [yet he is maintaining] his commitment to his local community”.
“He is truly a leader of our community.”
Stopping the boats may have anchored support for Mr Morrison both among his Liberal colleagues and in his local electorate – scene of the 2005 Cronulla riots that targeted Muslims – but he’s faced vociferous and sustained criticism from refugee advocates over the militarisation of Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. The Coalition’s approach to asylum seekers has also been slammed by Amnesty International. An Amnesty spokesman has called for the “closure of offshore processing centres” that have put vulnerable people at risk.
Christianity is also important for the conservative evangelical Mr Morrison. He attends Shirelive Church, and thanks God for the blessings he and his wife Jenny share with their two daughters, who were born after repeated attempts at IVF.
The religious base for his conservative views is clear in other ways too. He has declared his opposition to same-sex marriage, and gave a keynote address at the Australian Christian Lobby’s recent annual Sydney conference stating “jobs are the best form of welfare”.
Mr Morrison takes pride in his involvement in the local community, where he runs the Cook 200 Club. Sutherland Councillor Carol Provan describes him as a “great listener [who]… would make a great prime minister”.
Just as Captain Cook arrived in the Shire all those years ago, changing Australia forever, another wily navigator might set sail from there en route to Kirribilli House. It’s one boat ride Scott Morrison might not want to stop.
This article was first published in UniPollWatch.