Earlier today, a motion to spill the Victorian opposition leadership of Michael O’Brien failed to get the numbers after challenger Brad Battin called it on yesterday.
Brad who, you ask quite rightly. Battin’s a solid MP but outside Victorian parliament and Liberal party circles, nobody’s heard of him. Nevertheless, Battin felt compelled to challenge for the top job, and today was firmly rebuffed by most of his fellow MPs.
Some of those MPs did so out of loyalty to O’Brien. Others acted from a determination to roll O’Brien and replace him with former leader, Matthew Guy, but at a time of their own choosing, not Batten’s.
This farce had its moments, however. It saw, for example, out-there conservative Bernie Finn allied with soaking wet moderates like upper house leader David Davis and otherwise O’Brien critics such as vocal frontbencher Tim Smith, to keep O’Brien in the post, at least for now.
These shenanigans are pointless, the Victorian Liberals yet again talking about themselves instead of doing their best to hold an arrogant but mediocre and factionalised Andrews Labor government to account. Worse, as James Campbell of the Herald-Sun has pointed out, they put a negative spotlight on the Libs on the very first day the Victorian parliament sits without an incapacitated Daniel Andrews, and the government’s C team — Andrews being both A and B — is so ripe for testing.
In letting Labor off the hook today, the Liberals let down their loyal party members, donors and supporters. Worse, they let down Victorians who need a competitive alternative to Andrews and his motley and hyper-woke crew.
The truth of the matter is these party room leadership games are a waste of time. Matthew Guy may be their ablest and most experienced senior MP, but he’s had his leadership chance and now carries too much baggage Labor could make merry with if he returns.
O’Brien himself is trying hard and has added advantage of being a fervent Carlton supporter. But he is too decent and too gentlemanly to cut through from Opposition. His is a intellect and temperament better suited to government, as he proved outstandingly when state Treasurer.
Battin is an extremely decent and diligent frontbencher but barely known by the public. His mounting a challenging without being sure of the numbers may have raised his profile, but not in a good way.
Tim Smith talks a lot but still has much to learn, and is a polarising figure in the parliamentary party and the wider Liberal membership.
Sadly for the Victorian Liberals, riven by personality and factional clashes, while there are some good prospects for the future — like Sandringham MP Brad Rowswell — the probability is that the next Liberal premier of Victoria is not in the current parliament.
Instead of playing pointless leadership roulette, the Victorian Liberals MPs would do far, far better to get behind O’Brien until the next election and maintain a semblance of unity, keep focused on holding Andrews to account, and develop an effective policy manifesto of their own for the November 2022 elections, based on a clear centre-right vision for Victoria, In the likely event they won’t win in 2022, at least they should strive to regain seats and bring in talented new MPs and potential ministers – and in the meantime promote the group of current strong policy and media performers, and retire extinct volcanoes and newer duds.
But for today, the Shakespearean insult that heads this column says it all.
Terry Barnes edits The Spectator Australia’s Morning Double Shot newsletter, adding his daily comment to the best of our Australia and world articles. Sign up for your Morning Double Shot here.
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