There was little fanfare as Scott Morrison, former Prime Minister of Australia, entered the room. Followed by his interviewer, Professor Stephen Gethins of the School of International Relations, he appeared in a rather flamboyant pink shirt clutching a cup of tea.
“I thought all the Australians would be at the pub.” Morrison quipped as he found several Australian study abroad students in the front row.
Mr Morrison’s talk, lasting just over an hour, covered a wide range of topics from the challenges posed by China to his government’s response to the COVID–19 pandemic. However, the bulk of the discussion focused on the climate crisis. Morrison offered an optimistic view of the future, suggesting the fight against climate change could be won while acknowledging that the current approach wasn’t working. The former Prime Minister suggested that a tech solution was the most viable option, including the prospect of cheap hydrogen fuel. Notably, he predicted that it would be the private sector that would play the biggest role in tackling the crisis rather than world governments.
In the past, Morrison has had a complex relationship with the climate debate. One of his more notorious moments was when he stood up in the Australian parliament brandishing a lump of coal, to declare his support for the industry. However, Morrison made it clear that as an energy-exporting country, Australia had to move with the times to be a part of the energy economy of the future. He defended his record on climate change portraying the green transition as inevitable and necessary.
Equally, much of the discussion focused on the UK-Australian bilateral relationship. Morrison was keen to emphasise the strong ties between the two countries and the positive role that he saw the UK playing in the Indo–Pacific. “AUKUS revived the Anglo – Sphere” Morrison stated, reflecting on how the AUKUS pact strengthened Australia’s hand in checking a more aggressive China.
Morrison’s career in Australian politics began in 2007 when he sought selection for the Liberal Party’s safe seat in Cook, a suburban district in South Sydney. Despite losing the selection contest, his opponent was forced out due to a smear campaign and Morrison was chosen instead.
Morrison’s ability to shift ideological positions and capture media attention allowed him to navigate and thrive in the rapidly changing landscape of Australian politics. He quickly rose through the ranks of his party becoming Minister for Immigration and Citizenship when the Liberals won power in 2013, before assuming the powerful treasurer position just two years later. A divided Liberal party then allowed Morrison to become the 30th Prime Minister of Australia in 2018. Morrison served two terms as Prime Minister. His time in office was dominated by challenging issues including the COVID–19 Pandemic, the AUKUS submarine deal, and the Australian wildfires. He is often seen as a controversial figure, with frequent comparisons to Donald Trump. In particular, his strong stance on illegal immigration and opposition to gay marriage have both drawn criticism.
Drawing the discussion to a close Professor Gethins asked if Morrison had anything to say about the culture of debate in the modern world. “There is good and evil in us all,” Morrison replied, cautioning that we must be prepared to engage with those we disagree with in order to create a more civil debate.