A member of the ruling Liberal party’s conservative faction and former immigration minister, Morrison defeated former home affairs minister Peter Dutton
by 45 votes to 40 at a closed door leadership vote shortly after midday, local time, the
party’s whip Nola Marino announced.
Marino added minister for the Environment and Energy, Josh Frydenberg, had been elected as deputy leader.
Speaking on Friday afternoon following his win, Morrison, in a call for unity, promised to “bring the Parliament back together.”
“We’re an optimistic, we are a passionate, and we are an ambitious people, full of aspiration for ourselves, our families, and for our great nation,” he told reporters.
It followed days of speculation and confusion over whether now former leader Malcolm Turnbull could maintain his grip on the premiership in the face of a conservative uprising.
The leadership crisis began on Tuesday following a backlash in the Liberal Party over Turnbull’s climate change policy, which would have legislated the Paris Agreement goals.
The right-wing of the party would prefer greater investment in the country’s coal sector and policies to lower Australians’ power prices.
Dutton, a leader in the party’s conservative faction, stood against Turnbull for the leadership in a vote on Tuesday, losing only narrowly by 48 votes to 35 and all but guaranteeing a second vote.
But as Dutton’s momentum began to grow, Morrison put his hand up for the leadership in the face of questions over Dutton’s eligibility to sit in parliament.
Morrison’s election to the top of the Liberal Party is just the latest in a revolving door of leadership changes in the Australian capital in the past decade.
Since 2007, no Australia prime minister has faced two consecutive elections.
Turnbull warns of race politics
A self-proclaimed political moderate, Turnbull was always an uncomfortable fit within the right-of-center Liberal Party. He has been a longtime advocate for progressive social policies and action on climate change.
Turnbull said on Thursday he would step down and leave the parliament following the vote, potentially cracking the government’s slender one-seat majority and leading to a byelection or even a general election.
Speaking after his loss on Thursday, Turnbull thanked his “loyal” colleague Scott Morrison but issued a warning about attempts to drag Australia to the right.
“We must never allow the politics of race or division or of setting Australians against each other to become part of our political culture,” he said.
During his campaigning for the leadership earlier in the week, Dutton had spoken about concerns over immigration numbers in Australia, a common complaint among the Liberal Party’s right.
Morrison has not spoken recently about immigration in Australia and it is unknown if he will follow the conservative faction’s policy of cutting migration numbers.
Morrison was seen as a compromise candidate between Turnbull and Dutton — a political conservative but more electable than the unpopular alternative. Australia is due to have a federal election by May 2019 at the latest.
A committed Christian and at times controversial figure in Australia, Morrison was an enthusiastic advocate for the country’s strict border protection regime during his time as immigration minister.
Despite Morrison’s support for his opponent, then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott, in the 2015 leadership spill, Turnbull rewarded the high-profile conservative with the important position of treasurer in his government.
His arrival in Australia’s top job was welcomed by the conservative Australian Christian Lobby, who said in a statement Friday they hoped he would work to protect “religious freedoms.”
“Religious freedom must be a priority for the Morrison ministry in light of increasing numbers of Australians who are getting in trouble with the law for living out their faith,” the statement said.
But Morrison may have to work hard to regain the trust and enthusiasm of the Australian people after the chaotic week.
A poll published by ReachTEL on Thursday said only 8.6% of voters wanted to see Morrison in the Australian prime ministership, compared to 38.1% who wanted his predecessor Turnbull.
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