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Political ‘bulldozer’ Scott Morrison chooses to make a quiet exit


Scott Morrison has called time on a political career that over 16 years brought him to the height of power, and ended mired in scandal.

Mr Morrison was a media-friendly politician, and was a daily fixture on people’s television screens through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But after his election loss in May 2022 the former prime minister retreated to the backbench and kept a low profile, rarely seen outside appearances at the Robodebt royal commission, and defending revelations he secretly swore himself into multiple different ministries as prime minister.

Since then, Mr Morrison has publicly drawn closer to conservative former leaders in both the US and UK since the 2022 election, particularly former UK PM Boris Johnson and former US vice president Mike Pence.

British prime minister Boris Johnson greets Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison in 2021. (Reuters: Alastair Grant/Pool via Reuters)

Liberal sources say he is expected to take on a job with a US company once he has left parliament, though he will stay with his family in the Sutherland Shire.

His exit from politics closes a chapter for the Liberal Party, as the last prime minister of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison period of Coalition government exits the parliament.

Rise of a political chameleon

Scott Morrison arrived in federal politics in November 2007, but it was not an entirely smooth journey.

He won preselection for Cook, centred on Sydney’s Sutherland Shire, only after the candidate who comfortably won the ballot of local members — Michael Towke — was dropped.

The circumstances surrounding that preselection win would later be raised against him on the eve of the 2022 election campaign.

Before entering politics, Mr Morrison worked in tourism and marketing — selling both Australia and New Zealand to the world, as boss of both Tourism Australia and the New Zealand Office of Tourism and Sport.

The iconic Tourism Australia catchphrase “So where the bloody hell are you?” was approved by Mr Morrison during his time there. ((ABC News))

He also ran the NSW Liberal Party, helping secure an election win for the Howard government in 2001, and a defeat at a state level in 2003.

Once established in parliament he enjoyed a fairly steep climb through the party ranks.

The member for Cook earned the trust of leaders from both the moderate and conservative wings of the Liberal Party — a trusted lieutenant, seemingly unbound by the usual ideological divides.

A young Scott Morrison speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives, February 2008.(AAP: Alan Porritt)

The miracle man

Scott Morrison first rose to national prominence as a political warrior, leading damaging attacks against the Gillard and Rudd governments’ management of asylum seekers arriving by boat.

He held the immigration portfolio for more than five years, both in opposition and in the Abbott government.

The flow of asylum-seeker boats would eventually cease under his watch and the military-led Operation Sovereign Borders — an achievement celebrated with a trophy in his prime ministerial office.

Former prime minister Scott Morrison’s celebratory memento of his asylum seeker policy.(AAP: Lukas Coch)

After backing Tony Abbott in the 2015 leadership spill, the new prime minister Malcolm Turnbull offered Mr Morrison the role of treasurer in his new cabinet.

It was the role that allowed Mr Morrison to carve his leadership credentials and emerge as the compromise candidate in the 2018 leadership spill.

When Peter Dutton led the effort to end Mr Turnbull’s reign as prime minister, Mr Morrison successfully positioned himself as a more palatable alternative within the party room.

It was a remarkable rise to the top office and took plenty of voters — who had only weeks earlier seen Scott Morrison stand beside Malcolm Turnbull and declare his loyalty — by surprise.

Mr Morrison ended up toppling then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull. (ABC News: Marco Catalano)

He began introducing himself to the country as a rugby-league-loving dad from Cronulla, an everyman taking up the challenge of leading.

With the Liberal Party rocked by turmoil, having endured two damaging changes of leadership in its two terms, the new prime minister entered the 2019 election race as a significant underdog.

But he convinced enough Australian voters he was a safe pair of hands, pulling apart a detailed policy pitch from Labor and winning a contest many had written off as unwinnable.

“I have always believed in miracles,” he declared to the Liberal faithful as he claimed victory.

Mr Morrison’s love of the Cronulla Sharks was on display throughout his political career. (AAP: Craig Golding)

A disastrous holiday

There was little post-election honeymoon for the re-elected prime minister, as within months parts of the country started burning.

The Black Summer bushfires would arguably prove the most politically difficult period of Scott Morrison’s time in the role, and much of the damage was self-inflicted.

His decision to holiday in Hawaii amidst an ongoing disaster would always be controversial, but the attempt to hide the fact he was on holiday made it look far worse.

Years later, as voters went to the polls on the other side of a global pandemic, the images of Scott Morrison throwing shakas in Hawaii would still haunt his political ambitions.

Mr Morrison pictured on holiday in Hawaii while bushfires raged in Australia.(Four Corners)

The pandemic, which emerged at the tail of the bushfire crisis, provided an opportunity to act fast and restore his public image.

And at first, it worked. Moves like closing the international border relatively early, implementing JobKeeper and doubling JobSeeker, and establishing the national cabinet were both effective and popular.

Australia’s COVID death toll was remarkably low, and the country spent long stretches free of the virus while other countries grappled with overwhelmed health systems.

It was possibly the high point of Morrison’s time in the role.

But as the pandemic reached its second year a sluggish vaccine rollout, long lockdowns in eastern states and growing political divides in how the virus should be managed started to bite.

Mr Morrison fought states and vaccine rollout during the pandemic. (ABC News: Adam Kennedy)

A polarising figure at home and abroad

What may prove to be one of Scott Morrison’s longest legacies started out as one of his most diplomatically difficult moments.

Mr Morrison successfully brokered what is undoubtedly one of Australia’s most significant military partnerships in decades.

The AUKUS deal will see extraordinarily sensitive nuclear technology shared between the United States, United Kingdom and Australia — and eventually provide Australia with a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.

While on the one hand a diplomatic triumph, it infuriated the French government, which saw a separate contract for diesel submarines worth tens of billions of dollars torn up.

Relations with France turned so bad that when President Emmanuel Macron was asked by an Australian journalist if Scott Morrison had lied to him, he replied:

“I don’t think, I know.”

Relations between Australia’s Mr Morrison and France’s Mr Macron reached all-time lows. (Supplied: Prime Minister’s Office, Adam Taylor)

Domestically, Scott Morrison was facing accusations of a flat-footed and tone-deaf response to a cultural crisis enveloping the federal parliament.

Allegations made by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins, of a rape committed in Parliament House, sparked a wave of protest about a toxic culture both inside and outside the building.

Days after the allegation was first publicly aired, Mr Morrison said he only appreciated the seriousness of the matter, and the failures of the government’s immediate response, after talking with his wife Jenny and considering the matter as a father of daughters.

It raised questions of character that lingered for the remainder of his time in office.

2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame (right) made her dislike of Mr Morrison abundantly clear.(AAP: Mick Tskias)

From a miracle win to a humbling defeat

Mr Morrison entered his second election race as prime minister again the underdog, facing an opposition that had learned not to underestimate him.

Scarred from three years of bruising political battles, he faced more than the predictable political assault from Anthony Albanese and his Labor colleagues.

The party was fighting to hold on to wealthy, inner-urban seats that had long been Liberal heartland where voters were toying with electing independents promising change and a different kind of climate-focused politics.

And the Liberal Party itself was in turmoil, its campaign dogged in key states by bitter infighting.

Former prime minister Scott Morrison controversially answered a question about a boat arrival on election day.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

After an energetic campaign, and a desperate election-day ploy to return to his original “stop the boats” mantra, he would suffer a humbling defeat.

Labor would win a majority in the lower house, and a swag of heartland seats would fall to teal independents, ending his time as prime minister.

A tumultuous end

Many expected Scott Morrison to quietly leave parliament shortly after his election defeat, but the former prime minister stayed on.

And while he rarely sought headlines after the election, they tended to find him.

First came revelations Mr Morrison had secretly sworn himself into the Health, Treasury, Finance, Resources and Home Affairs portfolios during the pandemic.

Scott Morrison speaks to the media for one of the last times as prime minister after voting on election day.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

He withstood calls from his own colleagues to resign, and was formally censured by the parliament.

Scott Morrison would continue to argue that under his leadership, Australia’s management of the pandemic was “one of the strongest in the developed world”.

The former prime minister would also be roped into the Robodebt royal commission, giving evidence to the inquiry about his involvement as Social Services minister in 2014 and 2015.

The royal commission was critical of Mr Morrison in its findings, including that he allowed cabinet to be misled, provided untrue evidence and pressured departmental officials.

Scott Morrison would later accuse the government of conducting a “political lynching” against him.

Mr Morrison concedes defeat alongside his family. (ABC News: Matt Roberts)

In a little under four years in office, Australia’s 30th prime minister encountered more turmoil than others would find over a much longer reign.

He was also the first prime minister in more than a decade to serve a full term, offering stability to a public weary of spills and political treachery.

But when asked to decide on his future, the voters decided change was needed and his time was up.



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