Listen: Former Liberal MP Bruce Baird talks about Scott Morrison on Open House, with Stephen O’Doherty. Above: Australia’s newest Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. Image: Facebook
If he finds some time to pray this week, Australia’s newly minted Prime Minister Scott Morrison might say a quiet word of thanks for friend and mentor, Bruce Baird.
It was Baird, a Liberal MP in the 1980s and 90s, who saw the potential in Morrison, mentored him, and opened significant doors for him on his path to the top.
Baird, who’s also the father of the former NSW premier Mike, spoke to Open House about Australia’s new head honcho. He discussed ‘ScoMo’s’ faith, his stance on refugees, and the journey that got him to where he is today.
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A Crucial Phonecall
Scott Morrison was in his 30s when he became director of Tourism Australia, a role in which he oversaw the infamous “Where The Bloody Hell Are You?” tourism advertising campaign of 2006. Not long after, Morrison left the job, due to differences over direction with the then Tourism Minister.
The following year Bruce Baird phoned Morrison, and quietly told him he’d soon be quitting politics. Baird was going to leave his role as Member for Cook, and suggested that his young friend step into the ring to try and take his place.
Months later, there was a Federal election, and Morrison was voted in.
The Cook electorate, which Morrison has held since 2007, is a safe Liberal seat in Southern Sydney including some well-to-do suburbs like Woolaware, Caringbah, Taren Point, Miranda and Sylvania Waters.
He’s Proven he can Unite Warring Factions
In the early 2000s, while leading a rambunctious NSW Liberal Party as State Director, Morrison had to wrangle and unite the party’s bickering left and right factions. It’s a skill he’ll desperately need now, and one that distinguishes him from Malcolm Turnbull.
“He’s not really associated with the left or the right of the party, and in these times I think that’s particularly important,” Baird told Stephen O’Doherty. “Of the strong two factions in the party, the Moderates and the Right, he’s never formally been involved with either of them. He plays his own race and I think that’s particularly important trying to bring together the ‘broad church’, as it’s called, of the Liberal Party.”
Genuine Faith and Traditional Values
Another standout quality of Scott Morrison, and one that’s made a lot of faith-filled Australians happy, is his Christian belief – which Baird describes as very genuine.
“It’s not a pretend faith…it’s a genuine, deep-held faith,” he says. “He has the values of a strong Christian.”
Morrison is a husband and a father of two daughters, and worships at Sutherland Shire’s Horizon Church, formerly known as Shirelive – a large, Pentecostal church that is “Christ-centred, Word-based [and] Spirit-led” according to its website.
It’s also part of the Australian Christian Churches stable, the same ‘brand’ as Hillsong Church.
“A long time ago, a pastor said, ‘I believe Scott Morrison is going to be prime minister one day'”
According to the New Daily Morrison’s parents were youth leaders at their local church. He met his wife in church at age 12 and married her at age 21, and counts Hillsong pastor Brian Houston among his mentors.
“A long time ago, in discussion with the pastor at the church he was going to, he said to me ‘I believe Scott Morrison is going to be prime minister one day, and I think he’s got what it takes’,” said Baird. “I was not so sure then… he was only relatively junior, and it’s a long way to go to get to the top in politics.
“But I can certainly see he was right now.”
According to Baird, Scott Morrison is “not somebody who knives people”.
“He’s an honest person of excellent character – so you’re not going to find him playing the political games that others play,” he said.
“I think you’ll find him strong on family values. I know he’s concerned about religious freedom. On same sex marriage he came out and said he opposed [it], but he didn’t run into arguments with people about it.”
Not All Christians are Fans
But Morrison, in the eyes of many justice-oriented Christians, is a man of contradictions.
On one hand, he supported the national apology to Indigenous Australians in 2008, and spoke in his maiden speech about God’s qualities of “loving-kindness, justice and righteousness”; promising signs for voters who care about social justice.
Yet at the same time he took an incredibly tough stance on refugee policy in his role as Minister for Immigration and Border Protection under Tony Abbott.
“This is a very difficult portfolio, Stephen”
He had responsibility for the controversial ‘Stop the Boats’ policy in 2013, officially known as Operation Sovereign Borders, which was aimed at stopping unauthorised boats of refugees coming to Australian shores.
The approach made Morrison unpopular with many, including people of faith who believe Australia should show more compassion and care to asylum seekers. It raised alarm bells with UNHCR over its impact on human rights, and the suffering it has caused people in offshore detention centres.
At the time the policy was introduced, Open House presenter Stephen O’Doherty – a former MP himself who knows Morrison well – said he texted the now-PM expressing his concern over the harshness of the policy.
Morrison’s one-sentence reply was, “This is a very difficult portfolio, Stephen”.
“He certainly stopped the boats, and that was his directive…what I’d like him to look at is the children on Nauru.”
As for Bruce Baird, who is a big supporter of refugees and patron of the Australian Asylum Seekers Centre, he had disagreements with Morrison at the time, and hopes he will soften his stance on refugee policy now that he’s Prime Minister.
“He certainly stopped the boats, and that was his directive,” he said. “We might have some questions about humanitarian consequences, but one could also say he saved a lot people being drowned at sea from going out on unsafe boats. That’s one view.
“What I’d like him to look at is the children on Nauru. We’ve got all these children there, and I was part of a group that got an agreement from the Prime Minister that we would stop having children in detention centres and stop having families in detention centres. It’s on humanitarian grounds.
“We need to be sympathetic to these people who escaped where they were, trying to find a better life, and show some human and Christian compassion to them. That’s what I’d like to see.
“At the bottom line Scott is a very good man. We look forward to some of that human compassion I know he’s capable of in the days ahead.”
‘Pray for the New Prime Minister’
Baird urged people of faith to pray for the new top-dog.
“He’ll certainly need a lot of prayer and I’m sure he’ll get things wrong, but I think if the Christians are out there praying for him and recognise that he’s fallible at the bottom line, but that he’s trying to do his best under God, then that’s a good start,” he said.