Scott Morrison concedes defeat in Australian elections

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Credit…Saeed Khan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

When Scott Morrison became Australian Prime Minister in 2018, he was so little known that when he went to shake hands with a football fan, asked the confused man“What’s your name then?”

After nearly four years at the helm, Mr Morrison’s pitch to voters this time around is that he and his Conservative coalition are the known quantities in a world full of economic and geopolitical uncertainty. Australia continues to struggle with its exit from the pandemic, the fallout from the war in Ukraine and China’s encroachment in the region.

“It’s a choice between a solid future and an uncertain future. It’s a choice between a government you know and a Labor opposition you don’t know,” he said in April when the election was called. “Now is not the time to risk that.”

Mr Morrison, who won a surprise victory in the country’s last federal election three years ago, is the only prime minister in 15 years to serve a full term. But his tenure has not always been smooth, with moments that have tested the Australian public’s faith in his leadership and scandals that have rocked his administration.

The biggest and perhaps most enduring of those moments came early in his tenure, when he and his family flew to Hawaii as devastating bushfires raged across Australia in late 2019. His clumsy explanation during a radio interview – “I don’t hold a pipe, man” — has become emblematic of what many have criticized as his government’s inadequate response and unwillingness to take climate change seriously as a factor in the disaster.

Credit…Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

Some of that public trust was regained with his administration’s early success in battling the Covid-19 pandemic. Rapid border closures and aggressive policy measures spared Australia the levels of deaths and hospitalizations suffered by other countries. But government delays in buying vaccines and Mr Morrison’s remarks that securing shots was ‘not a race’ have eaten away at the trust that had been restored.

In the final days of the campaign, Mr Morrison admitted his leadership style had put off some Australians, saying he could be “a bit of a bulldozer”. But he said his approach was needed in recent years, and he vowed to change.

His challenger, Anthony Albanese, said Mr Morrison should not be given another chance: “A bulldozer destroys things, a bulldozer knocks things down. I am a builder.

Mr Morrison, who is the son of a policeman and grew up in a Sydney seaside suburb, is a devout Pentecostal, a first in largely secular Australian politics. He worked as a marketing manager on tourism campaigns promoting Australia before being elected to Parliament in 2007.

He emerged into the national consciousness in 2013 as immigration minister, when he took a hardline approach to enforcing Australia’s ‘Stop the Boats’ policy, aimed at preventing asylum seekers from reaching shores from the country. After serving as social services minister and treasurer, he became what some have described as an ‘accidental’ prime minister when he was the last to stand during an internal party revolt.

In 2019 Mr Morrison, 54, stood for his first full term as Prime Minister, describing himself as a relatable Everyman, a suburban dad who loves rugby – ‘ScoMo’ as he liked to call himself himself. He looked as stunned as anyone when his centre-right coalition won, calling it a “miracle”.

“It was a personal marketing success story in 2019,” said Frank Bongiorno, professor of history at the Australian National University.

But this time, he can no longer rely on personal branding. Mr Morrison is due to appear on his case, and there is disillusionment around his government’s handling of pressing issues such as climate change, the treatment of women and corruption, Mr Bongiorno said.

“There’s a feeling that maybe it’s time for a change, and that’s reflected in the polls right now,” he said.

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