The Great Victorian Reset
The Victorian Liberal Party is in the middle of what is being labelled The Great Victorian Reset. The Michael O’Brien so called Opposition has expired and the voices of renewal, hope and reason are now in ascendance.
O’Brien and his ragtag group of little known MPs like David Morris or Gary Blackwood with an odd assortment of others like Bernie Finn, Kim Wells and Cindy McLeish have imploded. This group never stood a chance.
It is too easy to blame the circumstance of the pandemic for O’Brien’s failures. O’Brien comes from the left wing faction of the Victorian Liberal Party which centred around Peter Costello. In recent years a stronger more rabid lefty push has left the small “L” liberal wet moderates looking like conservatives. Or in O’Brien’s case, confused and directionless.
O’Brien had long lusted for power. He spent 2018 with his equally socially inept friend Ian Quick undermining the Liberal’s election campaign. Some very nasty leaks were delivered to The Age by these two eager plotters.
With the 2018 election loss, O’Brien realised his dream. His factional comrade Georgie Crozier came with him. The tide was against Matthew Guy, Michael Kroger, Nick Demiris and their supporters. Political forces moved against them all, leaving O’Brien with control over the parliamentary team while Quick had power over the party.
A number of MPs became quite sour with the election loss including Ryan Smith, Nick Wakling and former MPs Andrew Katos, Robert Clark, Graham Watt and Inga Peulich. They all turned on Matthew Guy. Robert Clark had never amounted to anything in Parliament, but was given the honour of being installed a puppet dictator of the party by Ian Quick and Michael O’Brien.
Meanwhile, Ryan Smith aligned himself with Brad Battin, and those two set about on a quest for power. Matthew Guy wondered the political wilderness while Ryan Smith would talk to Tim Smith, hoping to sway him to support Battin, and to keep Tim Smith’s ambitions in check. Newer MPs Richard Riordan and Roma Britnell were also approached.
Brad Rowswell slipped comfortably into supporting the O’Brien regime, while David Davis was offered recognition he long desired. Louise Staley demanded the Shadow Treasurer’s role while Georgie Crozier provided backbone to O’Brien in their plan to set up a massive bureaucratic hierarchy to keep the party doing nothing while tacking unevenly to the political left.
In 2019 zero policies were developed. O’Brien appeared in the media a handful of times. Then COVID appeared and O’Brien went into hiding for months, appearing once on SkyNews to say that Daniel Andrews was not doing enough to lock down Victoria (really!) and he appeared at a news conference to castigate fellow MP Bev McArthur.
In early 2021 Richard Riordan hosted a secret meeting with Brad Battin, Roma Britnell, Matt Bach and Ryan Smith where he proposed that Battin openly challenge the utterly failed Michael O’Brien. Battin, who was trying to keep his powder dry, listened to his ego and challenged O’Brien. The challenge failed but the damage was done.
Bernie Finn who is aligned with controversial political dissident Karina Okotel openly stated his spectrum-like stubborn support for O’Brien, while discontent grew in the party room through 2021.
There’s a little café in the coastal country Victorian village of Queenscliff. It was once owned by former State Director Damien Mantach. A meeting occurred in early July, where significant overtures took place between Ryan Smith and Matthew Guy’s people. The basis for the post-O’Brien opposition was discussed. Matthew Guy was preparing to return.
O’Brien had no policies, but policies on the fly. O’Brien had no charisma, no normal social skills and no hope. With the bureaucratic-minded team running the party, and growing unrest within, the mood of the party room and the party was against O’Brien.
One party member from Ballarat who is friendly with Ian Quick commented that it was untenable that Michael O’Brien continue as leader. Even Graham Watt was careful to hedge his bets. Respected party identity Andrew McNabb was openly scathing of the O’Brien failures.
O’Brien’s chief of staff broke the cardinal rule of his role by becoming news. MPs complained about his inabilities which reflected O’Brien’s own defects. Brett Hogan was shoved off to work at the Liberal Party’s head office while the State Director spent his time in Launceston away from the dysfunctional party headquarters ruled by Ian Quick.
Just when the MPs had achieved a critical mass to oust O’Brien, O’Brien took the extraordinary step of saying that lockdown prohibited any vote challenging his leadership. Many of the MPs became hopping mad. By August they were fully leaking to the media against O’Brien and had become unruly in any meeting they held. O’Brien had lost control and they knew it.
Members in O’Brien’s own electorate of Malvern compiled a list of candidates interested in replacing Michael O’Brien. This list includes Holly Byrne, Mathew Knight, Georgie Crozier, Alexander Lew, Greg Hannan, Theo Zographos and Graham Watt.
At the start of September it became evident to the media that Matthew Guy had decided to step up. O’Brien couldn’t delay. Although Parliament was closed, reluctantly Ian Quick and Robert Clark had to let the MPs meet at the Liberal Party headquarters in Collins St.
Because Ian Quick had invested so heavily in a political machine that was top heavy and had centralised power, the removal of Michael O’Brien has become a massive impediment for Ian Quick. Quick and Clark have achieved nothing except for their radical plans to introduce Big Brother measures and rewrite the Liberal Party’s constitution.
Unlike many leaders, O’Brien will never return to the leadership of the Victorian Liberal Party. O’Brien lacks natural political ability. His career was kicked along by the patronage of Liberal great Peter Costello. O’Brien’s rise through the ranks of the party proves how shallow the talent pool is.
It is not easy having small feet to fill big boots and to lack the stamina to complete the uphill journey which is winning Victoria back to the Liberal party.
We all wish Michael O’Brien well as he will have more time to walk his dogs on the beach. Au revoir.