Australia’s new prime minister Scott Morrison declared he is committed to providing “stability, unity, and direction” for Australia.
“We’re on your side,” Morrison said at his first press conference after the leadership ballot on Aug. 24.
“That’s what matters. And we’re on your side because we share beliefs and values in common.
“We will provide the stability, the unity, the direction, and the purpose that the Australian community expects of us as leaders both of our party and of our great nation.”
Morrison became the nation’s 30th prime minister and the leader of the Liberal party after a second leadership battle on Aug. 24. He emerged victorious after defeating former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and former Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to become Australia’s sixth leader in the last decade. He is due to be sworn in later today by the governor general.
Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg was elected as deputy leader of the Liberal Party.
Prime Minister Morrison, who served as treasurer in the previous Turnbull government, reiterated the Liberal party’s belief that all Australians deserve a fair go.
“If you have a go in this country, you’ll get a go. There’s a fair go for those who have a go. That’s what fairness in Australia means. This is something we hold very dear to us,” he said.
“Regardless of our ability or circumstances, we are here to make a contribution rather than take one.
“It’s why we believe that Australians should keep more of what they earn. It’s why we believe that those who have come from so many different parts of the world to create this country and demonstrated that by their very actions.”
First Priority, Drought
In his address, Morrison told the nation that the drought was his top priority and that he will turn his attention to the suffering rural communities first.
“This is our most urgent and pressing need right now,” Morrison said.
“As soon as possible, I will review our drought response plans and be working with the Nationals and our regional and rural Liberal members to ensure that we do what is necessary to help our regional communities, our farmers, and all those affected.
“We will do what is necessary and co-ordinate with the states and territories.
“That will be my first focus, but there are many others.”
Turnbull to Resign
The nation’s leadership crisis was sparked when incumbent Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called a snap leadership ballot on Aug. 21, where he maintained his preference as party leader over challenger Dutton 48 to 35.
Amid the party’s recent internal struggles resulting from a widening division between the party’s conservative and progressive factions, Turnbull eventually conceded to a second ballot on Aug. 24 after being handed a petition of signatures from a majority of the party requesting another vote. A spill motion was passed and Morrison was subsequently elected for the top job.
At a press conference after the meeting, Turnbull reflected on his time as the nation’s leader and confirmed that he will resign from parliament in the near future.
“I’ll be leaving the parliament in…not before too long. As I’ve always said, I’ve been very clear about that, it’s not a secret,” Turnbull said.
This decision means the government is at risk of losing its one-seat majority in the lower house pending a by-election.
Turnbull also took the opportunity to take a jab at certain members in the party, blaming them for the intense leadership battle and instability in the party.
“The people who chose Peter Dutton and Tony Abbott, who chose to deliberately attack the government from within, they did so because they wanted to bring the government down. They wanted to bring my prime ministership down,” he said.
Craig Kelly told the ABC earlier that he disagreed with Turnbull regarding his claims that there was an “insurgency,” saying that to those on the inside, it’s always been about differences in policy.
“I had some policy issues,” Kelly told the ABC. “On some things, I was always behind the Prime Minister. On his company tax cuts, I stood up and argued those cases for the PM … The issue I had a little bit of difference on was the energy policy, and I actually this week congratulated the PM for listening.”
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told the ABC that the reason for the internal challenge was concern over key policy positions. “If we want to be as strong and as effective a government as possible, we need to have a united team, and the team clearly as not sufficiently united,” Cormann explained. “That had to be resolved.”
“This is not about anger, this is about making judgements.
“The party room today formed a judgement that Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg were the best equipped to unite the party moving forward and to provide the strong leadership that our government needs to take our country forward.”
The change in leadership for Australia comes less than a year ahead of an election due in May 2019. The new leadership under Morrison will now face the task of uniting the party and winning the approval of the Australian public.
Morrison said he will be considering the formation of his cabinet and ministry over the weekend.
“It is important, referring to both the conservative and the liberal traditions of the liberal party, that [this] is reflected in the team which I bring together,” he said at the press conference.
“It’s also important that we provide the stability of government, which we will be able to do.
“I think today what the party voted for was the stable choice for moving to a new generation. That means we will have a continuity, but there will be points of direction and emphasis that we will be consulting with our cabinet on.
“There are some outstanding issues from the previous government that we will continue to resolve and work through.”
Morrison said some of his key early priorities would be in the areas of energy, health, and ensuring a supportive business environment.
“Issues such as electricity prices—I mean there is [the] continuation of consideration in that area,” he said.
“There is healthcare … I am distressed by the challenge of chronic illness in this country—affordable medicines, aged care, medicare—small and medium-sized businesses, and to ensure that we’re continuing to deliver that encouragement and support to that enterprise ethic that exists across our economy.”
Prior to the leadership spill, the outgoing Turnbull government struggled in passing key policies relating to energy and company tax, resulting in decisions to backtrack on critical components within both policies. Morrison and Frydenberg were heavily involved in developing the two policies that are likely to influence the results of the next election.
The former prime minister announced on Aug. 20 that the coalition has decided to abandon the emissions reduction target component of the national energy guarantee (NEG), saying the government will no longer seek to include the 26 percent Paris emissions reduction target into legislation or regulation.
Turnbull said that the emissions component of the NEG was shelved because it did not have enough support. Several backbenchers within the Liberal party such as Andrew Hastie have publicly opposed enshrining the emissions reduction target in legislation or regulation.
Turnbull also provided several updates to the reliability of the energy policy aimed at bringing power prices down and ensuring big energy companies don’t abuse their market position.
“We are doing everything we can to bring your electricity bill down. Our priority is cheaper electricity,” Turnbull said.
Morrison confirmed that his government will also be committed to bringing electricity prices down.
“Our government is going to put electricity prices down,” he said in a press conference on Aug. 24.
“We will put in place what we have said from the ACCC report, which is to put in the safety net on price.
“We will put the big stick to ensure that the big energy companies to the right thing by you, the customers.”
Turnbull also made an announcement during the week to ditch the coalition’s plan for corporate tax cuts after it failed to pass the Senate on Aug. 22.
The plan to cut the corporate tax rate from 30 percent to 25 percent for businesses with an annual turnover of more than $50 million was also not able to receive the support needed. At the time, Turnbull said the government would instead consider accelerating tax cuts for small- to medium-sized companies.
“We are going to review our enterprise tax plan, in so far as it applies to small and medium businesses and focus on how we can provide enhanced support, or perhaps an acceleration of the tax cuts for the small and medium businesses,” he said at a press conference on Aug. 22.
Cathy Zhang contributed to this report.