O’Brien trying to delay challenge
Victorian opposition leader Michael O’Brien is running behind Daniel Andrews’ coattails and has made an arrangement with the Speaker of the lower house and President of the upper house to ensure that MPs cannot gather in the Liberal Party’s parliamentary room on Tuesday morning to hold a ballot designed to topple O’Brien from the top job.
For months speculation and commentary has multiplied about Michael O’Brien’s dismal performance as Victoria’s opposition leader. The latest move, using technicalities in COVID restrictions to stop the meeting that would oust O’Brien is, in the words of one Liberal Party member, “a low blow to democracy and another victory for Daniel Andrews.”
“He is only delaying the inevitable,” said another member.
A group of State MPs, including Brad Battin, Ryan Smith, Richard Riordan, Craig Ondarchie, Nick Wakeling and another female MP are willing to bring a motion of no-confidence in the current leadership.
Several months ago, this opened the opportunity for a spill, with Brad Battin leading the charge. However one female MP did not follow through with voting for Mr Battin at the time and he lost his bid for the leadership.
This time MPs are better prepared, with delicate negations taking place between Ryan Smith on one side and Tim Smith and Matthew Guy on the other. MPs have grown disillusioned with various controversies, factional connections and other missteps associated with Michael O’Brien’s poor judgement and lacklustre leadership. A large proportion of the party now see Matthew Guy as the only stable figure to bring back credibility to the war-weary Victorian Division.
At this point, Mr O’Brien is on borrowed time, as one party member said, “it has become a meme among our younger members who are saying he’s toast”.
Another party member commented on facebook, “Yep. I am hearing this all the time. How is the opposition any better? I know it is hard to get our view point across but at the moment we are perceived as divided without a strong leader.” This comment, incidentally, was deleted by Jan Millard, who is one of the few remaining supporters of Michael O’Brien.
The Age has reported that the desire for change among Brad Battin’s supporters is stronger than ever, with that group increasingly open to supporting Mr Guy should he agree to run. The Age has reiterated its suggestion that some of Mr Battin’s supporters are willing to back Mr Guy if he is the candidate in the imminent challenge.
One major catalyst for MPs seeking a change to the leadership has been the bizarre and absurdly dictatorial views pushed by Michael O’Brien who has modelled his own political position especially around COVID (but not style or delivery) on those of Premier Daniel Andrews.
News media and internal sources have highlighted growing friction within the Liberal Party, particularly around the factional alliance between Michael O’Brien and Ian Quick. Every week some new controversy comes to the surface highlighting the dissatisfaction of the party membership and most MPs with the current leadership group. It is understood that State Director Sam McQuestin is also privately hopeful of regime change.
Multiple MPs are venting their frustrations to the media after Michael O’Brien tried to leak damaging information about i360 campaigning software from 2018 to the media. It is also understood that Mr O’Brien had a severe falling out with Adam Wojitonis who was running the party’s head office in the interim after Simon Frost had left the job to go work for Josh Frydenberg. Mr Wojitonis further felt violated by Ian Quick to the degree that he decided to quit working for the party at the earliest opportunity.
One of Michael O’Brien’s former female staff members stated that he was not pleasant to work for, and that he expected everything but was very tight. It is well known within party circles that Mr O’Brien employs young women who have no political experience to provide him with medieval-style personal waiting service.
Party members were also highly embarrassed when Mr O’Brien’s vehicle was burgled at home in 2018 that Mr O’Brien did not know how to interact with police officers.
Mr O’Brien’s office is at loggerheads with the secretariat in regards to party communications. Emails are now sent from Mr O’Brien’s staff which carries the line “Authorised by Michael O’Brien” etc., rather than the usual method of communications being authorised by the State Director. These emails about small business are the product of focus discussions (largely at the direction of Ian Quick himself) which has indicated that “small business” is a key term that appeals to Liberal Party members. Communications designed to sound good to members rather than substantive policy development for the public has become a real concern in the face of the fact that there are less than 500 days to the upcoming state election.
While MPs have been frustrated by the lack of policy development, and the increasingly awkward situation of having Brett Hogan forced into the secretariat, MPs also continue to be surprised by Mr O’Brien’s either silence or opposition to federal policy positions such as in regards to onshore gas exploration, Chinese trade relations and opening prayers.
Most state MPs expect Mr O’Brien to be forced from office at the earliest opportunity and are bracing for the inevitable shift of power that might just be the jolt the Victorian Liberal Party needs to smash the current factionalism which has ruined the party.
“It seems that Mr O’Brien has taken a leaf from Robert Clark’s book about using COVID as an excuse to stifle democracy,” one senior party insider said. “But then again, the same person is counselling both of these failed leaders.”