Scott Morrison's career and connections in Sutherland Shire

Scott Morrison’s roots may be in the eastern suburbs but he has firmly embraced the Sutherland Shire community since becoming the MP for Cook 11 years ago.

He is the first prime minister from the shire, although Gough Whitlam, who gained the top office in 1972, lived at Cronulla between 1947 and 1957 when the seat of Werriwa covered the shire.

The Whitlam family relocated to Cabramatta when the electoral boundaries moved west.

Mr Morrison grew up in Bronte in a family focused on church, sport, community service and amateur theatre.

A role in a church musical led Mr Morrison becoming a child actor in TV ads.

His father John was a police officer and later mayor of Waverley.

Mr Morrison and his wife Jenny, who was raised in Peakhurst, met through church connections, started dating at 16 and married at 21.

Jenny Morrison, who was a registered nurse and childcare centre worker, reportedly used to tease him for coming from the posh side of town.

A family did not come easily for the couple.

In his inaugural speech in Parliament, Mr Morrison said of his wife: “She has loved and supported me in all things and made countless sacrifices, consistent with her generous, selfless and caring nature.

“However, above all, I thank her for her determination to never give up hope for us to have a child. 

“After 14 years of bitter disappointments, God remembered her faithfulness and blessed us with our miracle child, Abbey Rose, on the seventh of the seventh of the seventh, to whom I dedicate this speech today in the hope of an even better future for her and her generation.”

Mr Morrison worked for the Property Council of Australia until 1995 when he moved to the  Australian Tourism Task Force and then defected to rival organisation, Tourism Council, then managed by former state transport minister Bruce Baird, who would become his predecessor in Cook.

In 1998, Mr Morrison took on a new job heading New Zealand’s newly created Office of Tourism and Sport, but a power struggle led to his return to Sydney.

He was state director of the NSW Liberal Party from 2000 to 2004, leaving to run Tourism Australia, where he oversaw the "Where the bloody hell are you?" advertising campaign.

He lost his $350,000-a-year job after a reported bitter falling-out with the federal Tourism Minister Fran Bailey.

Mr Morrison won the seat of Cook in 2007, after the retirement of Mr Baird, amid the most bitter political factional war ever seen in the shire.

The Liberal Party preselection for the safe seat  attracted a big field of candidates, but was won easily by Michael Towke, a young Lebanese Catholic, who had been working quietly for months building up numbers in the branches.

Mr Morrison was eliminated in the first ballot, gaining only eight votes, and Mr Towke went on to win with 82 votes.

However, the state executive of the party refused to endorse Mr Towke’s preselection after a media campaign suggesting Mr Towke had fudged his CV and rumours spread about his family and early ALP involvement.

News Limited later paid Mr Towke $50,000, plus costs, and removed offending articles from the internet after he sued for defamation.

Mr Towke claimed party officials did not want him as a candidate after the 2005 Cronulla riots because of his Lebanese background.

A second preselection resulted in Mr Morrison being endorsed.

Mr Morrison has previously rejected any knowledge of muckraking or playing the race card.

“It's just offensive,” he told Fairfax Media in 2016.

“I just turn to the friends and the relationships that I have [with people such as Muslim community leader Jamal Rifi] and I think that speaks for itself,” he said.

Dr Rifi vigorously defended Mr Morrison.

“I believe there is no racist bone in that man. Absolutely," he told Fairfax Media.

The Muslim leader said he and his wife dined regularly with the Morrisons, with whom they had much in common: "a belief in God and a common moral ground", as well as a commitment to service.

"There is no doubt Scott is very ambitious," Dr Rifi said, "but without that ambition I reckon nobody should be in politics."

After becoming the MP for Cook, Mr Morrison and his family quickly embedded themselves in the shire community.

Mr Morrison became a strong supporter of the four Bate Bay surf clubs, sporting and community groups and police in the area.

He established the annual Cook Community Classic, attracting financial support from big business for a celebration at Cronulla beach, including fund-raising for local community organisations.

In 2009, he and Labor MP Jason Clare helped heal the wounds of the Cronulla riots by walking the Kokoda Trail with a group of surf lifesavers from the shire and young people from the Muslim community in Bankstown.

In 2011, the two MPs undertook a similar exercise, this time including north coast MP Rob Oakeshott, in which four young people from each area retraced the steps of Australian prisoners of war on the Sandakan death march in the jungles of Borneo.

Three of the shire contingent were members of the Shire Life Church [now Horizon Church] which Mr Morrison attends, while the fourth was from Cronulla RSL Football Club.

The four young people from Mr Oakeshott’s electorate were indigenous, while those from Mr Clare’s Bankstown area electorate were of African and Muslim backgrounds.

‘‘This is an opportunity to not only learn about and commemorate the sacrifice of the diggers, while also about appreciating the values that bind us as a nation,” Mr Morrison said at the time.

However, during his time as Minister for Immigration and Border protection, the government’s treatment of asylum seekers resulted in regular protests outside Mr Morrison’s electorate office overlooking Cronulla mall.

In a 2014 interview with the Leader, Mr Morrison said he had received ‘‘enormous support’’ from shire residents over the government’s hard-line policy.

‘‘I get so much encouragement when I walk through Cronulla mall, go down the beach, or up to Miranda Fair,’’ he said.

‘‘On Australia Day, we were at the fireworks at Cronulla, and I was walking through the crowd, and people were coming up to me to say ‘g’day’ and encourage me, and congratulate me on what we had done so far, and basically saying ‘keep giving it to ’em’ and ‘don’t back down’.’’

Asked if there were still occasions when he received the ‘‘cold shoulder’’ or stony looks, he replied, ‘‘Not in the shire’’.

Mr Morrison rejected the suggestion this might reinforce the shire’s reputation for being insular.

He said residents weren’t against immigration or asylum-seekers, but wanted a process that was done ‘‘the right way’’.

Scott Morrison was surprisingly upbeat at the time about speculation he could one day become Prime Minister.

‘‘I am up for any challenge, but right now I know what the challenge is and the challenge is this job,’’ he said.

‘‘John Howard gave me some advice many many years ago when I became director of the Liberal Party in NSW: ‘Do this job well — that’s all you should think about and, if you want to do anything else, then that will hinge on whether you do this job well’.

‘‘I find those sort of comments encouraging and flattering, but I don’t dwell on them.

‘‘I thank people for their kindness and get back to work.’’

In his inaugural speech, Mr Morrison said, “The shire community is a strong one”.

“It is free of pretension and deeply proud of our nation’s heritage.

“Like most Australians, we are a community knit together by our shared commitment to family, hard work and generosity. 

“We share a deep passion for our local natural environment and embrace what Teddy Roosevelt called the vigorous life, especially in sports.

“It is also a place where the indomitable entrepreneurial spirit of small business has flourished, particularly in recent years. In short, the shire is a great place to live and raise a family.

“As the federal member for Cook, I want to keep it that way by ensuring that Australia remains true to the values that have made our nation great and by keeping our economy strong so that families and small business can plan for their future with confidence.

“At a local level, families—in particular carers—will come under increasing pressure because of the inability of local services to meet the changing needs of an ageing population.

“The character of our local area is also threatened by a failure to deliver critical state infrastructure such as the F6 extension for our current population, let alone the population growth targets set by the state government for the future.

“On the Kurnell peninsula, the modern birthplace of our nation, we must reverse 150 years of environmental neglect, most recently demonstrated by the construction of Labor’s desalination plant—a plant that New South Wales does not need and the shire community does not want.

“We must also combat the negative influences on our young people that lead to depression, suicide, self-harm, abuse and antisocial behaviour that in turn threatens our community.

“We need to help our young people make positive choices for their lives and be there to help them get their lives back on track when they fall.”