O’Brien’s chief Hogan out a PR disaster

O’Brien’s chief Hogan out a PR disaster

Michael O’Brien’s opposition office has exploded in a public relations nightmare. It has been announced by the Opposition Leader’s office that troubled chief of staff, Brett Hogan, is to take on a new role. This situation has been forced because of numerous complaints and internal Liberal Party troubles.

Brian Loughnane was sent by Canberra to address problems within the Victorian Division after a series of disastrous actions (and inactions) indicated that Victoria was a liability in the upcoming Federal election as well as totally unprepared for the 2022 State election.

State MPs unhappy with the performance of the Opposition Leader have cited numerous issues, including accusations that the taxpayer funded Opposition Office has been participating in party factional activities and that Mr Hogan himself has been directly involved in factional activities at the behest of powerbroker Ian Quick. Michael O’Brien and Ian Quick are factional allies and co-operated together in 2018 to undermine then leader Matthew Guy including by deliberately sabotaging the party’s i360 campaigning software.

Mr Hogan, who was working for Matthew Guy’s chief of staff Scott Pierce in 2018, proceeded to betray them as his allegiance was to then upcoming hopeful Michael O’Brien. One reason for the acrimony is the office intrigue which involved Mr Hogan’s making uncomfortable co-worker Alice Bailey.

Since assuming the role of Opposition Leader, there has been a revolving door of staff at the Opposition Office. Mr O’Brien has preferred younger female staff members to travel with him as personal assistants. Those close to Mr O’Brien have described his personality as “Melbourne weather”. Staff turnover signifies deeper workplace environmental culture and personality issues.

While MPs have been severely critical of Michael O’Brien’s office and of Brett Hogan’s natural aloofness, a significant crisis around policy development has been also highlighted with MPs worried that Michael O’Brien will seek to “fatten the pig for market day” with a bevy of ill-formed last minute policies for the November 2022 election.

The Opposition Office has sought to put a positive spin on Mr Hogan’s forced redundancy by giving The Age a friendly story about how Mr Hogan’s workplace separation is by mutual agreement and how he has been given a new role, under the protection of Michael O’Brien, as a senior policy advisor with the bureaucratic title of “Director of Public Policy”. It was not revealed to the public that Mr Hogan would not suffer a pay decrease or that his new role would largely be a change in title only. However, as far as staff management and the role of chief of staff, both Ian Quick and Mr O’Brien are seeking a factional ally to take on the position.

Senior Liberals are concerned that Mr Hogan’s new role might be part of a design long entertained by Ian Quick to split the State Director’s role at the party’s headquarters into two different jobs. Mr Hogan’s new role appears to be designed to checkmate some of the powers and workings of the existing Secretariat which administers the Liberal Party. By tying the taxpayer funded roles of the Opposition Leader’s office to duties which would historically be done by the Secretariat, it means that both media, policy and public relations aspects of campaigning are now tied to both the funding and bureaucratic structure of the Opposition Leader’s office not the democratic processes of the Liberal Party.

It is unclear whether Mr Hogan would physically work from an office cubical next to Rochelle Ratnam’s at the party’s Collins Street headquarters as it is unlikely he would continue to operate out of the secretive 157 Spring Street location. Although, in the view of one Liberal Party powerbroker, stranger things have been known to happen. Details about which body would now pay or otherwise funnel wage payments to Mr Hogan were also not revealed.

Several MPs and senior party officials are calling for Mr Hogan to be removed altogether, especially in light of frictions between MPs and Mr Hogan, as well as less than cordial relations between Mr Hogan and State Director Sam McQuestin. It is this last development which is most troubling in the already ruptured wider party.

“We should not be shuffling deckchairs on the Titanic when we can see this big iceberg called the 2022 election on the horizon,” said one senior Liberal Party figure.

“This is another Michael O’Brien decision. He hired Brett Hogan. Now he refuses to remove him, even though Brian Loughnane’s findings are completely damning.”

“Michael O’Brien has solved zero problems but in fact multiplied them.”

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