CANBERRA – In at least one sense, Scott Morrison is the most successful Australian prime minister in years.
He is the first to survive in office from one election to the next since 2007. That year, the government of Australia’s second-longest-serving Prime Minister John Howard was voted out after a reign of almost 12 years.
Between Howard and Morrison, there have been four prime ministers including Kevin Rudd who served twice during an extraordinary period of political instability in Australia.
Rudd’s second stint ended when voters ousted his center-left Australian Labor Party government in the 2013 election. The other three prime ministers were toppled by their own parties, which panicked amid poor opinion polling. So too was Rudd during his first stint that set the revolving door to the prime minister’s office spinning.
Morrison’s relative longevity can be explained in part by his conservative Liberal Party tightening the rules that enable them to activate their leader’s ejector seat.
But most put his survival for a full three-year term down to the credit Morrison is given for leading his coalition to a narrow victory in the last election in 2019 when Labor was favored to win. Some betting agencies had been so confident of a Labor victory that they had paid out the party’s backers before polling day.
Morrison announced on Sunday that the next election will be held on May 21. It's the latest date available to him.
Morrison’s coalition is again behind in most opinion polls. But the polls’ credibility has not recovered from the shock of the 2019 result and Morrison is now recognized as a masterful campaigner who does not surrender.
The 53-year-old former tourism marketer was labeled the “accidental prime minister” in 2018 when his government colleagues chose him to replace then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
It was yet another overthrow of a prime minister without involving voters for reasons not fully explained in a process that Australians increasingly loathe. Polls suggested Morrison would have one of the shortest tenures of any Australian prime minister with elections only months away.
His critics argue that his success has been a triumph of style over substance.
The satirical website Betoota Advocate labeled him “Scotty from Marketing” when he first came to power and the description has gained popularity since.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has been nicknamed Albo since he was a child in keeping with a time-honored Australian tradition of abbreviating names and often adding “o” at the end.
Likewise, Morrison is widely known as ScoMo. But there is conjecture around just how organic that nickname is.
“That’s what I’ve been tagged as, so I may as well embrace it,” Morrison said in 2017 when as treasurer he added “ScoMo” to his Facebook account name.
Morrison sells himself as an ordinary Australian family man who is passionate about his Sydney Pentecostal church and his local National Rugby League football team, the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks.
His persona is described as “Daggy Dad,” an affectionate Australian term for an unfashionable father who can be amusing but can also be a source of embarrassment for teenage children.
During a family profile for Australia’s “60 Minutes” current affairs program broadcast nationally in February, he sang an amateurish rendition of a 1970s rock song “April Sun in Cuba” while strumming a ukulele.
He is the son of police officer and one-term mayor John Morrison and a descendant of British convict William Roberts, who arrived in Australia in 1788 with the first fleet of 11 ships that established the penal colony that became Sydney.
He promoted tourism for the Australian and New Zealand governments before entering politics.
He is seen by some as an incongruous mix of a committed Christian who made his name through ratcheting up a refugee policy that many church groups have condemned as inhumane.
Morrison rose to public prominence when the conservative coalition government was first elected under Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2013 as the minister who stopped asylum-seekers from attempting to reach Australian shores by boat.
Australia used the navy to turn boats back to Indonesia, or it banished refugees to remote immigration camps in the poor Pacific island nations of Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
The policy has been widely condemned as a callous abrogation of Australia’s international obligations to help refugees. Australia’s human rights watchdog found in 2014 that Morrison failed to act in the best interests of asylum-seeker children in detention.
Morrison explained his deep belief in the righteousness of crushing the people-smuggling trade and preserving the safety of people who are tempted to board rickety boats to take the long and treacherous voyage to Australia.
The boats have stopped arriving and the government recently moved to neutralize the plight of refugees still languishing on the islands by accepting a New Zealand offer to resettle 150 a year.
Morrison remains proud of the refugee policy. He has a trophy shaped like a silhouette of a people-smuggler’s boat inscribed with the words: “I Stopped These.”
Sen. Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, an enemy of Morrison within his conservative Liberal Party, said the prime minister’s faith was a marketing ploy.
She described Morrison as the most ruthless person she had met in her public life.
“He is adept at running with the foxes and hunting with the hounds, lacking a moral compass and having no conscience,” Fierravanti-Wells said in her final speech to the Senate in March.
“His actions conflict with his portrayal as a man of faith. He has used his so-called faith as a marketing advantage,” she added.
Morrison referred to his Christian faith’s influence on his politics during his first speech to Parliament in 2008.
“So what values do I derive from my faith?” Morrison asked.
“My answer comes from Jeremiah, Chapter 9:24: I am the Lord who exercises loving kindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things, declares the Lord,” he said.