A new PM, a new challenge

New Australian PM Scott Morrison. Photo: Getty Images
New Australian PM Scott Morrison. Photo: Getty Images
Turmoil has once again entered the Australian political arena as the Government yesterday descended into chaos.

Former treasurer Scott Morrison has become the latest Prime Minister of Australia but, with the vote 45 to 40, Mr Morrison faces a split caucus. He is the sixth prime minister in nearly eight years.

This is an extraordinary result, given the events of the last week were brought on by Peter Dutton and the conservative wing of the Liberal Party.

Mr Dutton was the odds-on favourite to win the leadership contest when he earlier this week challenged Malcolm Turnbull. Although Mr Turnbull survived the first challenge, Mr Dutton pressed on. Enough MPs signed a notice requiring another meeting of MPs.

Mr Morrison, and Mr Turnbull's deputy Julie Bishop, put forward their names for the leadership.

Mr Dutton will be disappointed, even vengeful, to have lost. He is sitting on a narrow margin in his own electorate and would have welcomed the higher profile being prime minister would have given him for the next election.

Mr Morrison is not unknown to New Zealanders. His maternal grandfather was a New Zealander and, in 1998, the new Liberal leader moved to this country to become director of the newly-created Office of Tourism and Sport. He formed a close relationship with then tourism minister Murray McCully and was involved with the creation of the long-running ``100% Pure New Zealand'' campaign.

A devout churchgoer, Mr Morrison is no friend of asylum seekers and it is unlikely New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will find any way through Mr Morrison's defences when she inevitability lobbies him about New Zealand's offer to take 150 refugees from Nauru and Manus Island.

In 2013, Mr Morrison launched a strategy aimed at stopping unauthorised boats departing for Australia.

Voters in Australia will undoubtedly start feeling neglected as another major party changes its leader. Labor replaced Kevin Rudd with Julia Gillard before Mr Rudd again replaced her. Liberal MP Tony Abbott replaced Mr Turnbull as leader of the Liberals, in Opposition, winning the election for his party to become prime minister. He lasted only two years and two days before he was replaced by Mr Turnbull.

Australia had an unprecedented run of economic growth but the times have changed. The mineral boom ended and the economy stagnated. Voters are looking for remedies, not a revolving door of leaders.

Mr Turnbull is going to make it hard for Mr Morrison, despite the new prime minister being his preferred candidate. The former prime minister has indicated he will resign from Parliament, forcing a by-election.

Although his Wentworth electorate is said to be the safest seat for the Liberals, a by-election will mean Labor and Australian trade unions pooling all their resources to either take the seat or substantially reduce the Liberal majority.

Independent MPs, who Mr Turnbull had to rely on to pass legislation, have indicated they will sit on the cross benches. One independent has assured the Liberals of his support, meaning the first motion of no confidence in the Government, expected on the first day back in Parliament in about two weeks, will pass.

However, another MP has indicated her deal was with Mr Turnbull and the new prime minister will have to renegotiate on her electoral priorities.

The Australian political cycle, like that in New Zealand, has become increasingly poll driven. Getting rid of Mr Turnbull was all about self-preservation for the Liberal MPs who now may have to face the reality of not only their party losing the next election - whenever that is called - but facing selection challenges in their own electorates.

Mr Morrison will face the same challenges of his predecessors.

The relationship between New Zealand and Australia has been strained in recent years as Australia takes a harder line on sending Kiwis ``home'', despite many of them not living here since they were young children.

As Mr Morrison fights for political survival, relationships between the transtasman neighbours can only deteriorate further before an improvement becomes apparent.


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