SYDNEY - Scott Morrison, Australia's new prime minister, is promising to heal the wounds after his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull was forced out by party rivals. In an internal party room ballot, Morrison narrowly defeated the former home affairs minister Peter Dutton by a vote of 45-40.
Morrison and his deputy have presented themselves as the “the new generation” that can put a “bruised and battered” government back together. They have promised to focus on the drought that has gripped much of eastern Australia, but as they try to get back to business, huge divisions remain in the center-right coalition.
Turnbull’s term was ended Friday by a revolt by conservative lawmakers led by the former home affairs minister Dutton.
Turnbull had been weakened by poor polling and by concerted attacks by right-wing factions who considered him to be too much of a moderate.
In his last press conference as leader, he said it had been a shameful week for politics.
“Australians will be just dumbstruck and so appalled by the conduct of the last week. You know, disunity is death in Australian politics as everyone says.”
The new prime minister’s task is to heal a fractured and chaotic coalition government in time for the next election. That will not be easy, said Paul Kelly, an editor at the Australian newspaper.
“This is a government that is broken. This, I believe, is the most profound crisis the Liberal Party’s faced since Sir Robert Menzies formed the party in the 1940s. I think this is a much more serious split in a governing party than what we saw in the former Labor government with Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard,” Kelly said.
It has been more than 10 years since a sitting Australian prime minister has served a full three-year term in office.
Morrison is the country’s 30th leader. He is socially conservative, and as a former immigration minister helped to shape policies that saw asylum-seekers who tried to reach Australia by sea either turned away or sent to migrant camps in the South Pacific.
While Morrison could be persuaded to cut legal immigration as the election nears, analysts do not expect him to adopt any new radical policies on issues, such as climate change. Some members of his government are heavily influenced by the powerful mining industry.
Election analyst William Bowe believes Morrison will find it tough to win over voters.
“The Liberal Party have less chance of winning the election now than they did two weeks ago. I think, however, that Scott Morrison is a far more electorally palatable choice than what seemed in prospect, which was Peter Dutton. The Liberal Party are [sic] in a position now where they can be competitive and I think that this whole saga could have ended up a lot worse for them,” Bowe said.
Commentators say it has been one of the most destructive periods of party in-fighting in recent Australian political history.