Opposition leader woes

State MPs are voicing their frustrations with the leader of the Opposition, Michael O’Brien. Mr O’Brien, whose position is backed by Liberal Party power broker, Ian Quick, is under increasing pressure over an appalling performance during his time in the top job.

Mr O’Brien belatedly told The Age that he would try to do better, but most MPs and Party members concede that there are no more chances left and that a new leader must be appointed.

It is understood that about two thirds of State MPs are unhappy with the Opposition Leader’s performance, but are divided over who to choose as his replacement.

Three groupings of MPs exist, with Mr O’Brien’s now at a shaky 11 supporters, while the Matthew Guy-Tim Smith grouping are looking at their growing numbers, leaving several other hopefuls such as Ryan Smith, Brad Battin and Neale Burgess with a few votes apiece between them.

“Mr O’Brien is awkward at the best of times,” one source said under the guarantee of anonymity. “He’s hot and cold. On Corona he was AWOL. We were astonished he got on TV and agreed with Daniel Andrews. We understand he is at the mercy of a combination of circumstances. He has set our cause back in the public space while he and his faction go to war with the Federal Government.”

Senior Liberal figures, in and outside of Parliament, are urging Mr Guy, who has the most experience, to run against Mr O’Brien, but he continues to maintain his reluctance in taking on the role.

Other MPs who have put themselves forward in the past include upper house leader David Davis, who would face extreme difficulty because leaders must sit in the lower house where government is formed.

Frontbencher Tim Smith is seen as a potential future leader, but needs to overcome the internal factional campaign orchestrated by powerbroker Ian Quick against his supporters. Mr Smith’s youth and inexperience are factors keeping him back from being seriously considered for the role at this time.

Former MP John Pesutto, darling of the Party’s most left-leaning members, has recently come under fire for his China connections in the midst of his planned comeback for the seat of Hawthorn in 2022.

The Age reported that Mr O’Brien was unhappy with MPs leaking and giving confidential interviews with journalists after four of his former supporters told The Age that while unwilling to bring on a challenge they would be willing to switch leaders if Mr O’Brien stood aside.

Mr O’Brien’s backers are generally longer-serving MPs from the faction of the party aligned to state president Robert Clark. Mr O’Brien’s strongest opponents Party conservatives as well as disaffected moderates.

One leading Liberal member said that they would be willing to give Matthew Guy a second chance on condition he had learned the many lessons of the 2018 election loss, reinvented himself and sought to work with party members aligned with party figures Michael Sukkar and Michael Kroger.

It is believed that Georgie Crozier, long time moderate and O’Brien supporter, has switched her support from the ailing leader.

One Liberal power broker said, “Mr O’Brien is a policy vacuum. It was bad enough in 2018 when policies were made on the fly and the policy platform materials were kept confidential. But Matthew Guy has changed and grown tremendously since then. Whereas Mr O’Brien is death walking and has two feet in the political grave.”

As former Liberal Party leader and disgraced Lord Mayor of Melbourne famously said, “You can’t fatten the pig on market day”. This phrase has become a meme among the Young Liberals in relation to Mr O’Brien’s fading support.

Liberal MPs plan to bring the issue to a head before winter. In an unusual sign, National Party members have also privately stated they would prefer the return of Matthew Guy.

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