Treasurer and enthusiastic FinTech advocate Scott Morrison is Australia’s new Prime Minister after winning the Liberal Party leadership ballot on Friday afternoon.
Mr Morrison won the leadership ballot 45 votes to 40 over Peter Dutton, after Julie Bishop was earlier knocked out of the contest.
Energy minister Josh Frydenberg was elected with an “absolute majority” as the deputy leader of the Liberal Party, and will have his pick of portfolios.
Mr Morrison has been a vocal advocate for the Australian FinTech sector since becoming Treasurer and has led a number of major reforms, including open banking and the wider Consumer Data Right. He is a regular visitor to tech hubs including Stone & Chalk, and has close connections with lobby group FinTech Australia.
Addressing the media following his victory, Mr Morrison said he would be leading the “new generation of Liberal leadership”.
“Our job as we take forward this mantle of leadership as a new generation is to ensure that we not only bring our party back together, which has been bruised and battered this week, but bring the Parliament back together and continue to work to ensure our country stays close together,” he said.
“It is important that we provide the stability of government…we will have that continuity but there will be points of difference in direction that we will be consulting on.”
Mr Morrison did not mention the FinTech or tech sector in his first speech as Prime Minister-elect.
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called the party room meeting via WhatsApp for early Friday afternoon after eventually receiving a petition from Mr Dutton with the necessary 43 signatures.
Less than an hour later, it was announced that Mr Morrison had won the vote.
Ms Bishop received the lowest number of votes and was eliminated from the process first, before the Liberal members voted for a second time, where Mr Morrison emerged victorious.
Following the defeat, Mr Dutton pledged “absolute loyalty” to his new leader.
It was the second Liberal leadership spill in the week, with Mr Turnbull narrowly defeating Mr Dutton on Tuesday.
But several key frontbenchers soon resigned, including cybersecurity minister Angus Taylor, innovation minister Michaelia Cash, and assistant minister for digital transformation Michael Keenan, forcing the government to adjourn the lower house on Thursday.
Former innovation minister Arthur Sinodinos, a long-time Turnbull supporter who has been on extended sick leave from Parliament since October last year as he battles cancer, returned to Canberra on Friday to cast his vote in the leadership ballot.
A cabinet reshuffle is expected in the coming days, with all the major tech and digital transformation-focused positions to be filled. Mr Morrison said he would consider the new ministry and cabinet “over the course of the weekend.”
Senator Cash, Mr Taylor and Mr Keenan had earlier backed Mr Dutton and their futures in the new Morrison ministry is in major doubt.
Mr Morrison has served as federal Treasurer since September 2015, and in the last year has focused significantly on the FinTech sector, with a number of reforms including open banking, tax breaks and the regulatory sandbox.
He has close ties to many prominent members and groups in the FinTech sector, and has previously said that he wants the industry to “grow big, to thrive and deliver benefits for consumers and the economy”.
He has led a number of the Treasury-focused elements of the National Innovation and Science Agenda, including the tax incentives for investing in early-stage tech companies.
Late last year he warned the tech sector that it needed to improve its public image and properly convey its benefits to the general public.
“We know that this whole area, while it contains enormous opportunities, can also be incredibly intimidating to people. It’s often very hard for them to understand the real changes and improvements in living standards that it can deliver for them and how, when it’s harnessed for their purpose and their benefit, there are big changes that can be made,” Mr Morrison said in September last year.
“People need to be able to understand that we need to be able to communicate clearly why this helps them. If it has no utility for them, don’t expect them to be interested. We have to be able to explain the benefits, not the features; the benefits are what will sell the change.”
There are also hopes in the tech sector that Mr Morrison will advocate for back skilled immigration, and continue with the Global Talent Scheme program.
His efforts have made him popular among many leaders of the FinTech community, including FinTech Australia chief executive Brad Kitschke.
“There is no question that as treasurer, Scott Morrison has championed the role of the FinTech sector,” Mr Kitschke told InnovationAus.com.
“He was instrumental in the establishment of the FinTech bridge with the UK, created the treasurer’s FinTech Advisory Council and provided funding support for the promotion of FinTech businesses and industry bodies. The treasurer has a strong track record of supporting this ecosystem.”
It was the Turnbull government that won office in 2015 on the back of a campaign centred on innovation and technology. By the end of that year, it had delivered the National Innovation and Science Agenda, and hopes were high among the local sector.
But these hopes were quickly dampened, with a common view among the sector that the focus on tech scared off the general public, and the government has steadily steered away from it. There have been few big-ticket major tech-focused policies since the unveiling of NISA nearly three years ago.
Mr Turnbull addressed the media shortly after the leadership vote, and listed many of what he views as his achievements while in office. He did not mention the government’s tech or innovation policies, or the National Broadband Network.
“It may surprise you on a day like this but I remain very optimistic and positive about our nation’s future, and I want to thank the Australian people for the support they’ve given me and my government over the last nearly three years,” Mr Turnbull said in his last speech as Prime Minister.
The leadership turmoil had earlier been described as a “nightmare” be leading members of the tech and innovation sectors, with fears the instability and new ministers will delay and halt a series of expected reforms and pieces of legislation.
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