Australian ruling party elects new PM

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Scott Morrison rode a wave of late momentum to become Australia's 30th prime minister on Friday, as his colleagues in the ruling Liberal Party deciding that the Sydney member of parliament (MP) represented a greater chance of electoral success than his main challenger, Peter Dutton.

At the end of a dramatic week in Canberra, Morrison defeated Peter Dutton, 45 votes to 40, for the Liberal Party leadership, with the third challenger, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, eliminated in the first round of voting.

This meant Morrison, the federal Treasurer, became the nation's 30th prime minister since federation in 1901, while the deposed leader Malcolm Turnbull announced that he will soon quit politics altogether.

It was Dutton who first brought on the challenge to Turnbull during the week but the negative reaction to the prospect of his leadership style over the past two days clearly forced some Liberal Party MPs into a rethink.

It was felt Dutton, a Queenslander and arch-conservative, who would struggle to win widespread support in more progressive states such as Victoria and New South Wales and would lead the coalition parties to electoral disaster against Labor.

While he was once a vocal supporter of hardline former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Morrison, 50, is currently regarded as a slightly more moderate figure within the party, one who has a formidable intellect and was more likely to succeed in taking the electoral fight up to opposition leader, Bill Shorten.

Remarkably, he had remained loyal to Turnbull all through the turmoil of the past few days, while other key supporters of the prime minister such as Mathias Cormann, Mitch Fifield and Michaelia Cash all switched sides and threw their support behind Dutton.

In the end, Morrison's loyalty paid off. In many colleagues' eyes, it highlighted his dependability, political canniness, and ability to remain calm in a crisis. Also, unlike Dutton, he carried with him no constitutional complications.

So having stood with Turnbull until his prime ministership was clearly doomed, Morrison won support from moderates who once would have viewed him with suspicion. At another time, in different circumstances, Morrison would have been relying on the party's conservatives for his core support.

Friday's party room ballot has marked an extraordinary rise through the ranks for Morrison.

While he has been in parliament for little more than 11 years, his ambition and intelligence meant that big things were always predicted for him.

When he first arrived in Canberra, towards the end of 2007, he lobbied then-Liberal leader Brendan Nelson for a place on the frontbench. Nelson knocked him back telling him he needed to spend some time on the backbench so he could gain invaluable experience there. According to some colleagues, Morrison was not happy at the snub although he has disputed this recollection of events.

Morrison would not stay on the backbench long. In 2009, he became shadow minister for immigration and citizenship when Abbott became party leader after his successful coup against Turnbull.

As Abbott's immigration minister, Morrison was an unflinching advocate of the plan to "Stop the Boats", preventing asylum seekers from arriving in Australia.

Morrison is the son of a policeman, an active member of the ShireLive evangelical church and a Cronulla Sharks fan in the national rugby league competition, in other words, a pretty regular, middle-class, middle-aged Australian male.

Morrison wears his political ambition and his conservative credentials proudly. He voted No on same-sex marriage, listed "church" as one of his interests in his Who's Who report, and counts former Prime Minister John Howard as his political inspiration, media reported Friday.

Interestingly, it has been Howard's long-serving Treasurer, Peter Costello, who has been mentoring Morrison since he became Treasurer.

And after a period of uncertainty when he initially took on that demanding portfolio, Morrison has warmed to the role under Costello's mentorship and his recent 2018-2019 budget was well received.

His position on many key foreign affairs matters is unclear. Unlike Dutton, he has not announced a position on Australia's immigration intake, foreign investment in Australia and domestic issues such as electricity prices and emission targets.

There are foreign policy matters that require Morrison's immediate attention such as a landmark free trade deal between Australia and Indonesia, a document that both nations were on the brink of signing after years of negotiations.

Turnbull was due to travel to Indonesia next week but it is unlikely that Morrison, who will have other, more pressing domestic issues to attend, will make the trip as the new prime minister. So that agreement will have to be postponed till a later date.

After Morrison gets comfortable in his new office, and gets on top of domestic politics ahead of the next election, he will turn his attention to the key regional foreign policy issue for Australia.

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