Peter Dutton has used his first appearance as opposition leader to declare he is "not going to change", saying the Coalition will be "squarely aimed" at the suburbs and regional Australia.
The Liberal Party is facing a reckoning after its moderate wing was obliterated at the federal election, and one senior Liberal is already urging Mr Dutton to "be inclusive" as he seeks to heal the party's wounds.
Speaking after being elected unopposed alongside deputy Sussan Ley on Monday, the new Liberal leader claimed a series of tough roles had ensured his "softer side" had been hidden from the Australian people. "I'm not going to change but I want people to see the entire person that I am," he said.
"Hopefully you could tell a different story, that I'm not as bad as the ABC sometimes might report."
Concerns have been raised over the ascension of Mr Dutton, a conservative with a history of hardline stances on social issues, after moderate voters abandoned the Liberals in previously blue-ribbon seats.
But after the Nationals dumped Barnaby Joyce for David Littleproud, who vowed to lead from the centre, Mr Dutton said the Coalition's agenda will be "squarely aimed at the forgotten Australians" in suburbs across regional Australia.
"We won't be Labor lite. We'll propose strong policy to make the lives of Australians better and to provide more security to them," he said.
Just minutes after Mr Dutton was elected, former home affairs minister Karen Andrews urged him to "be inclusive" as the party attempted to rebuild.
Mr Dutton admitted he "made a mistake" in 2008 when he abstained from the apology to the Stolen Generation, saying he believed it to be a tokenistic gesture at the time. "I want there to be practical solutions, and I want to work with the government to deliver those," Mr Dutton said.
But he said it was too soon to reveal whether the Coalition would support an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, which he had previously dismissed as a third chamber.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has insisted the federal government would not bow to an increasingly assertive China, but will use more temperate rhetoric to thaw bilateral relations.
Mr Dutton as defence minister told Australians to "prepare for war" to preserve peace, comments he described on Monday as "not too controversial".
"I want to be a strong country ... we live in the best country in the world, it's worth fighting for," he said.
Mr Dutton was elected unopposed as leader of the Liberal Party with former environment minister Sussan Ley as his deputy, following a leadership meeting in Canberra on Monday.
He will lead the party through opposition following its landslide defeat on May 21, when a number of moderate faction MPs lost their seats to so-called "teal" independents.
Chief whip Bert van Manen confirmed the leadership change and thanked former prime minister Scott Morrison and former treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
"Sadly, Josh couldn't be here given the result in Kooyong, but he's provided [a] tremendous service to the party as a deputy leader and treasurer over the past three-and-a-half years so thank you very much," Mr van Manen said.
Mr Morrison and his factional lieutenant Alex Hawke - who has been criticised for his role in NSW's Liberal preselection saga - were seen attending the party meeting along with soon-to-be-former senator Amanda Stoker.
"They are incredibly experienced, well-versed, deeply, deeply-committed Australians to both the Liberal cause and, of course, the cause of the nation," he said as he left the Parliament House party room.
"I think they'll do an outstanding job and I look forward to giving them all of my full support."
He declined to respond to questions about his future in parliament following the election defeat.
Former home affairs minister Karen Andrews, who considered a tilt at the deputy role last week, said her advice to the fresh Opposition Leader was to "be inclusive".
But moderate Liberal MP Warren Entsch was "confident" the party did not need to give their new leader that message, saying Mr Dutton was not part of the "religious right" and was already committed to governing from the centre.
Mr Entsch said Mr Dutton had stuck to his word when implementing the marriage equality plebiscite, dismissing claims he was from the ultra-right as "an absolute farce".
"At no point as a senior minister has Peter come to me and said: 'Entschy, you need to temper your views'," he told The Canberra Times.
"There's another side of Peter Dutton people haven't seen, and I think we'll see a hell of a lot more of it as the leader of the opposition."
Mr Dutton came under fire for a number of comments in office, including claims Australia made a mistake by resettling Lebanese refugees in the 1970s, and that Melburnians were afraid to visit restaurants due to African gang violence.
Mr Entsch downplayed the comments as simply "a little bit of the ex-copper in him".
"He's had some of the most difficult portfolios in some very challenging times, and has had to make very difficult decisions which ... were going to polarise in one way or another," he said.
Former Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman, who lost his inner-city Sydney seat to an independent, earlier warned Mr Dutton must accept Labor's mandate for climate action or risk an "eternity in opposition".
But he framed the incoming leader as a pragmatist who accepts the party cannot reclaim government without speaking to moderate voters.
The party is facing a reckoning after its moderate wing was decimated at the May poll, losing a host of seats to climate and integrity-focused female independents.
And the ascension of Mr Dutton, a conservative with a history of hardline stances on social issues, has raised fears the party could entrench the result long-term.
Mr Zimmerman, who lost North Sydney to independent Kylea Tink, on Monday accepted the new leader had a "hard path ahead of him" to convince voters who walked away from the Coalition.
The pair had many disagreements - over climate, same sex marriage, and refugees - but Mr Zimmerman hoped the new leader's "very strong pragmatic streak" would see him form a constructive opposition.
"I think he is genuine. He's not one of those that says, like Tony Abbott has, that the seats are beyond the Liberal Party and we should just move on," he told ABC radio.
"I think he knows that we have to regain the trust of voters in electorates like mine if we're going to ever have a pathway to victory."
Mr Zimmerman was part of a now-depleted moderate faction pushing former Mr Morrison to adopt a net zero emissions target by 2050, but the Coalition retained a mid-term target dwarfed by the rest of the developed world.
He said the election result, which also included a Greens surge, gave Labor a mandate to implement its 43 per cent by 2030.
Mr Dutton should be "constructive" over Labor's mandate on climate and an indigenous voice to parliament, he said.
"I think that would be the sensible thing to do. I think it's the democratic thing to do," he said.
"I think it would be an important signal that the Liberal Party has recognised that climate change was a factor in so many seats."
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