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Who is Scott Morrison? Our new Prime Minister shares a rare and candid look at into his personal life

He is the evangelical Christian who experienced some very dark days and was “crying out” to God for help.

By The Weekly

Scott Morrison, who has been serving as the nation's treasurer, has been named as the new Liberal Party leader making him on track to become the 30th Prime Minister of Australia - our sixth Prime Minister in just 11 years.

So how much do we know about the married 50-year-old father-of-two who will soon be tasked with leading our country?

The following is a rare personal interview from the August 2015 edition of The Australian Women's Weekly, where tough-talking Scott Morrison and his wife, Jenny Morrison, talk candidly about their faith to Helen McCabe.

Scott Morrison is blinking back tears and his staffer has gone to look for tissues.

He has been jolted by the memory of his late grandmother, who passed away shortly before Scott entered Parliament. Yet the evidence of emotion is so brief that only the awkward placement of the tissues confirms it. The 47-year-old is in his ministerial office on the ground floor of Parliament House in Canberra. He has recently been moved from the Immigration portfolio into another controversial area – Social Services.

And even though he would have preferred to have been rewarded with the prestigious Defence portfolio, he has taken the welfare system by storm, announcing difficult reforms and forging alliances. As one influential MP said, "If we lose the next election, Scott Morrison will be leader."

As of 24 August 2018, Scott Morrison is the new leader of the Liberal Party.
As of 24 August 2018, Scott Morrison is the new leader of the Liberal Party.

Such is his success that he is treated with suspicion by rivals and loathed by opponents, especially for his stance on asylum seekers. At least some of the confusion about him can be traced to his faith.

These days, he describes himself as an Evangelical Protestant or, as former Treasurer Peter Costello enthusiastically proclaimed, "He's a Happy Clap-ee".

Put another way, he worships at a church linked to Hillsong and counts Reverend Brian Houston as one of his many influential friends.

Scott Morrison's faith does not define him

While Scott has never shied away from it and happily clarifies that he does not speak in tongues, he maintains that his faith does not define his politics.

"My personal faith in Jesus Christ is not a political agenda," he says. How that sits with his policies around turning back the boats is a point of contention. Yet, if the polls are a guide, it was popular and, arguably, the only compassionate option.

In some ways, despite this issue, Scott Morrison is as uncomplicated as it gets. For he is essentially an old-fashioned bloke from a close, happy, middle-class family, who married his childhood sweetheart at 21 and goes to church on Sundays.

The thing that sets him apart, however, is ambition.

Scott Morrison grew up in Sydney's now upmarket beachside suburb of Bronte, where his family, parents John and Marion, and older brother Alan, lived with an aunt who was widowed at a young age.

By all accounts, he was surrounded by people who loved him. He followed Alan to Sydney Boys' High, where Scott says he was not overly academic, but "did okay".

After a decade of failed fertility treatments, Scott and Jenny Morrison say their daughters, Abigail and Lily are "Gods plan".
After a decade of failed fertility treatments, Scott and Jenny Morrison say their daughters, Abigail and Lily are "Gods plan".

Most nights after school, he visited his beloved grandmother, especially after her husband passed away. "My grandmother was very important to me and she died a few days before I was elected to Parliament [in 2007]. She was very important to me," he says, before losing his composure.

It was a hectic, but grounded, childhood. His parents, who were members of the Presbyterian Church (which later became the Uniting Church), were especially active both in the church and in the community.

"My brother and I, we'd never been particularly denominational. We've always just liked going to a local community church," he says.

Scott was a dutiful son. He played rugby, rowed and participated in his parents' amateur theatre group. He even had an agent as a young boy and was in a few TV commercials, such as a high- profile campaign for Vicks Vaporub. He also did voiceovers and sang, but denies he is any good these days.

"When I was a kid, I had to [perform], my mum signed me up. I remember very distinctly [being in Oliver] because my dad was in it, we were in it together."

The only real frustration, if you could call it that, was that he was barred from joining the Bronte Surf Club, even though his father was a keen surfer.

"My father was quite strict. He prevented me from joining the surf club, which I always regretted. I really wanted to join the surf club. My mates were joining the surf club and Dad had a real thing about alcohol, and he didn't want me to join the surf club because he thought back then it was just a bunch of ... but he was in the bloody Bronte Surf Club and he went in all the races,'' he says, good-naturedly.

So he thought it was something where you would get drunk?

"He said the guys in the surf club drank too much and he didn't want me exposed to that."

Perhaps it was also about drugs?

"No, that's why he didn't let me go to rock concerts and he'd always say, 'No, you can't go to that because I have to rescue the people who do', and all this sort of thing. So my father was a very strict policeman."

So, to be clear, Scott Morrison has never done drugs, but he does admit to getting drunk at least once, in defiance of his formidable father.

The only other time he threatened to rebel was when he decided to take off to Canada, to study theology at Regent College, which counts another Liberal, NSW Premier Mike Baird, as a graduate.

Scott's father was strongly opposed because he believed his newly married son needed to get a job to support his family. Scott says his father won by secretly orchestrating a job offer that he accepted.

In effect, his father laid the foundations for what NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione says has given his friend the courage of his convictions. Commissioner Scipione, who is also a member of the Hillsong brand of worship, says that Scott's courage is the result of being raised by a policeman.

Scott and Jenny Morrison struggled for years to conceive, before a miracle occurred when Jenny was 39.
Scott and Jenny Morrison struggled for years to conceive, before a miracle occurred when Jenny was 39.

Jenny Morrison is a campaign director's dream. For starters, she is a registered nurse who worked in a childcare centre. Yet she is also pretty, honest, maternal and, as one person after another attests, she is decent, kind and a truly loyal friend.

Sitting in a cafe outside the Hazelhurst Regional Gallery and Arts Centre at Gymea, south of Sydney in the federal seat of Cook, she is nervous about being interviewed. Yet she relaxes while telling the story of their childhood romance.

Jenny's story differs only slightly from Scott's, but, as he puts it, "she remembers it better".

They were 12 when they first met at Sydney's Luna Park. Jenny liked him immediately and felt the same a year later when they met again at a Christian youth camp. This time, he took her number, but, frustratingly, he didn't call.

She waited until they met again at 16, which is when they "finally" started dating. Apart from a two-week break (he dumped her), they have been together ever since.

Yet, after marrying, Jenny was forced to wait again. This time, it was for a lot longer. And this time it was for her only true ambition in life – to have children.

"Early married life was really hard because he'd just finished uni. He probably realised when he got married that he was married and he was young. He just worked incredibly hard, he always has. He bought me a cat, a lovely furry cat," she says, with a smile. "Yes, I was very sad that I couldn't have children. That framed a lot of my life."

Lonely and increasingly desperate, Jenny began IVF and, like so many women, suffered one failed round after another, until she decided it was time to move on.

Before agreeing to this interview, the couple asked that the details of their battle and the reasons for it remain private. However, Jenny will say that at one stage, when told about another failed round of IVF and not knowing how to tell her friends, she wrote an email.

"I sent this message out to my friends saying, 'This is just my path and, if children aren't on it, then there's a far better plan happening for me anyway', so I just got on with the journey and that was a turning point."

That acceptance by Scott and Jenny of what they call "God's plan" was a turning point for the couple. At 39 years of age and with Scott running for preselection, Jenny gave birth to Abigail Rose on the seventh day of the seventh month in the year 2007. She, like her little sister, Lily, was conceived naturally.

"She is our miracle child, the answer to a lifetime of prayer and 14 years of painful, invasive, heartbreaking treatment," Scott wrote in May 2009.

In his maiden speech to the federal Parliament on Valentine's Day 2008, Scott said, "God remembered her faithfulness and blessed us".

They weren't just words in a speech. Today, Scott happily recounts how the birth of Abbey increased his already powerful belief in God.

"Afterwards, it really increased my faith because, while I was crying out, wondering, 'Where are you?', He said, 'I am right here and I knew this day was coming'.

"I am not superstitious, but the fact that [Abigail Rose] was born on the seventh of the seventh, 2007, I believe was not an accident. [I believe] that was a message to me about who's in charge."

Read More: EXCLUSIVE: Julie Bishop's thoughts on ex Prime Minister Gillard

Scott Morrison's wife and family

For Jenny Morrison, having children was the start of her own very busy life as a mother, but by now, her husband was a Member of Parliament.

"I remember very clearly sitting on the front steps of the house, holding a newborn, with a two-year-old running around [thinking], 'I just can't wait for him to walk back in that door'," she says.

She describes days when she would call her sister, desperate for help and company in return for a home-cooked meal and a laugh.

Yet things were only to get harder. Jenny says, after Tony Abbott won office in 2013, she was in the car when her husband took a call from the incoming Prime Minister.
"I said, when he got off the phone, 'Just tell me it's not Immigration', and he said, 'It's Immigration'. That was incredibly hard."

Despite some dark days, including 24-hour protection at the height of the Stop the Boats campaign, Jenny and Scott both believe their marriage is as strong as it gets, in part because of those dark years of infertility.

"He's taken to Saturday night cooking, which is really hilarious. He gets all the ingredients and starts from scratch.

He's got to have beers happening and music playing." she says.

(Jenny reluctantly concedes he is a big fan of Tina Arena.)

"He just doesn't buy the naan bread, he makes the dough and rolls it out."

Jenny adds, with an eye-roll, that he doesn't always wash up with the same unbridled enthusiasm.

Hillsong's Reverend Brian Houston says he thinks people who do not know Scott would be "pleasantly surprised" at how "personable and engaging he is".

Antoinette Walker is one of their inner circle. The small business owner and mum of four says Scott has shown her incredible compassion during her own personal crisis. She credits the Morrisons with pulling her through and becomes emotional remembering his empathy for her.

"I think faith maketh the man and he showed that by his words to me. His words just come from the heart," she says.

Another of the inner circle, Karen Harrington, tells how Scott and Jenny came to her birthing suite ahead of the birth of her first child and long before Abbey was born.
"I was there at the start," says Scott, matter-of-factly. "Jenny stayed with Karen and [her husband] Adrian, and I went home and went back the next day."

There have been other tough times for the Morrisons, such as when Scott was sacked as head of Tourism Australia by the nine-member board.

"There were different constructions of words put together at the time, but that's what it boiled down to," he admits. "It was quite an event. There's the humiliation and embarrassment.''

A number of sources agree the sacking lingers over an otherwise impressive record. Yet it's broadly agreed that it was his failure to listen and consult, rather than his performance, that led to his demise.

These days, he has a well-earned reputation for consulting – and, in particular, building cross-bench support for policy reform.

Yet no overview of his career is complete without mention of the messy way he won his preselection.

On the first ballot, Scott (then a moderate) won just eight votes. The winner was Michael Towke from the Liberal Party's Right faction. Yet a subsequent smear campaign accused Towke of branch-stacking, which led to the party ordering a new ballot.

Scott won the second ballot. Towke sued a newspaper for defamation and was offered an out-of-court settlement, but it was too late – his parliamentary career was over.

Today, Scott offers little sympathy for the loser, saying "preselections are tough, politics is tougher".

He now considers himself to be Centre-Right, but his allegiances still confound many. That's partly because he famously once went to parties for both factions, even though they were on the same night.

One MP cites this story as all you need to know about Scott.

The man himself smiles and shrugs, saying he has always talked to both sides of the party. And this is the thing about Scott Morrison: on the one hand, he appears to get along with everyone and yet, when you speak to enough people, there is a level of suspicion or at least caution towards him.

It's a confusion that never existed with his Parliamentary predecessor, John Howard, for example. Yet both Scott – and his supporters – argue being faction-agnostic means he builds relationships across all divides.

Arguably, Scott's only big mistake in office has been his remarks about the cost of the funerals for victims of the Christmas Island boat tragedy in 2010.

On the morning of the funerals, Scott said he did not think it was "reasonable" for taxpayers to be paying for flights for family members.

"Yes, I regret it," he says before the question is even asked. "I wasn't saying, 'Don't bring the family from Christmas Island to Sydney.' That was not my view. But I was angry at myself."

SITTING in his electorate office in Cronulla, in Sydney's south, Scott seems more relaxed than in Canberra. He is about to visit a workplace for disabled adults and he seems genuinely pleased to be home, and opens up about his appetite for controversy.

"One thing Jenny has always been on to me about is, 'You're going after that again?' And I go, 'Well, Jen, what am I there for?'"

He is now entering the debate about marriage equality – because he is opposed to it and feels obliged to say so.

"It's not why I went into politics, it's what I believe, but it's not why I went into politics. And I'm reluctant because I don't particularly want to be stereotyped in that role, but I can't pretend that that's not view – it is my very strong view."

Behind his modest desk is a bookshelf groaning with dozens of political memoirs. They provide a visual clue to his leadership ambitions, while he gently deflects questions about them.

He identifies William Pitt (British PM at age 24) and Franklin D. Roosevelt (US President at age 51) as the leaders he most admires. Yet Scott quickly dismisses the observation that perhaps it's better to be an older leader than a young one – which does nothing to dispel the idea that this is a man in a hurry.

One thing is certain. Spend even a brief amount of time in Scott Morrison's company and you are left with the lasting impression that, while he believes God will always be in charge, he's nevertheless ready to lead.

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