The conservative side of politics may have Australia's mainstream media on its side but the Andrews Government’s secret weapon is the Victorian Liberal Party Opposition.
This is not to take away from Victorian Premier Dan Andrews’ performance, who – in the face of a pandemic, an undermining Federal Government and a sustained antagonistic media campaign not seen since … well, since the hate crusade against the Gillard Government – has maintained a calm, measured and proactive approach to governance. Indeed, the Victorian Premier has achieved much during his term, which was also marred by a protracted absence due to injury.
But while the public response to the Andrews Government has been strong throughout – as evinced by its sizable and unbroken lead in the polls – we cannot underestimate the extent to which the bungling, sniping and predominantly ridiculous Liberal Opposition has further cemented support for the Victorian Labor Government.
And for the doubters, this week drove home this fact when Opposition Leader Matt Guy chose the Parliament Chamber to illustrate his ignorance.
Guy got up and, speaking in suitably mournful tones about the death of Queen Elizabeth, included a fabled storybook character in his tribute to royals past (IA emphasis):
“In all those times, in all those monarchs from figures well known, King Arthur, Henry the Eighth and so on, the longest reigning of them all was Queen Elizabeth.”
It would have been hilarious had it been intended as parody. Unfortunately for Guy, it was just cringe-worthy and reminded everyone that since he leads an Opposition mired in the past – and a disconnected, fictitious past at that – he is just not leadership material.
Bizarrely, in the lead-up to the November Victorian State Election, his relationship with reality is probably the least of Guy’s problems, as we will see.
Victorian Liberal Opposition Leader Matt Guy, for those who may not be familiar, is the person formerly known as Matthew “The Lobster Mobster” Guy. He first came to notoriety following revelations about his alleged ties with colourful mob figures.
As Dave Donovan wrote back in 2017:
'The Liberal Party’s close links with Tony Madafferi and his Calabrian friends are, in fact, simply part of its sincere longstanding commitment to multiculturalism. Indeed, the Liberal Party and the Calabrian business community are natural friends and allies. They have so much in common!'
While his questionable associations cast a shadow over the Victorian Liberal Party, they did not see him ousted as Leader — Guy resigned after his humiliating loss at the last Victorian State Election. His spectacular loss to Dan Andrews in 2018 reduced the Liberal National Coalition total by 11 seats to just 27, to Labor's 55.
But at least Guy had a profile, while, unfortunately, most Victorians would still struggle to remember the name of his temporary replacement, Michael O’Brien. And with the talent pool dominated by figures such as the constantly undermining Tim Smith, who spent the entire pandemic hurling toxic abuse at the Victorian Premier, it wasn’t long before the better-connected Matt Guy was reinstated.
Guy’s previous career highlights included record approvals for high-rise developments and staunch opposition to windfarms, as Planning Minister in the Napthine Government. Guy has also been a vocal opponent of abortion law reform.
Perhaps the most famous planning determination was Guy's unpopular overruling of the Bass Council's decision to oppose the rezoning of a swathe of farmland at Phillip Island. The proposal to open the area for subdivision was vehemently opposed by the community, as expressed in 100 submissions against the proposal and just one – from the developer – in favour. The ever-responsive Guy didn't let a little thing like community opposition deter his "kitchen table" promise made to the developer, however, and overturned the council decision, anyway.
It wasn't until American performer Miley Cyrus drew attention to the ill-conceived move by alerting her 2.5 million fans on Twitter that Guy capitulated. However, while the land was saved from inappropriate development, the developer sued the Napthine Government and an 11th-hour $2.5 million settlement with developers (plus legal costs) over Guy's botched handling was struck.
Today, the whiff of shady dealings still lingers wherever Guy goes, it seems, and he was referred to IBAC over fresh allegations of corruption just last month.
But Guy’s anti-environment and anti-women's rights stances, his questionable alliances and dismal performance at the last State Election did not seem to deter his party colleagues since he is, once again, Opposition Leader. How little they have learned from the public wave of discontent that has demanded action on climate, gender equality and integrity, nationwide.
These trends have not escaped the New South Wales Liberal Party Premier, however. Dominic Perrottet, who may be facing questions over his own conduct at the NSW ICAC, has distanced himself from the Liberal Opposition Leader. Perrottet has chosen, to project a small ‘l’ Liberal image, working cooperatively and openly with Dan Andrews, rather than joining his Victorian counterpart's anti-Dan club.
Meanwhile, the National Liberal Party, decimated after the last election and similarly choosing a Far-Right Draconian leader in Peter Dutton, has at least recognised that Guy can use all the help he can get. This week, a report which outlines the extent of the damage suffered by the party at the last Federal Election will be kept under wraps by the party until after the Victorian State Election in November. Of course, the extent of said destruction is already apparent in the fact that Dutton and Sussan Ley could be considered its most worthy leaders, as well as to anyone that can count the number ofseats lost.
It won’t help the Victorian Liberal Leader at the next election that the Victorian economy, under Andrews, has bounced back from the pandemic and now boasts the lowest unemployment rate, the best-performing economy in Australia and a higher proportion of female to male Labor candidates contesting the next election.
The only thing that can help Guy, his own public utterances of idiocy notwithstanding, may be the ever-willing, predominantly right-wing media chorus, which has attacked Andrews at every turn, throughout the pandemic, his back injury and everything in between. However, while we cannot underestimate the power of the Australian mainstream media’s stranglehold, Victorians at least, appear to be over it.
This editorial was originally published as part of the Independent Australia weekly newsletter. These editorials are usually only available to subscribers and may be read online in the IA members-only area.
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