‘The end of the matter’: Former Liberal leader rules out leadership tilt before election

Victoria’s former opposition leader, Matthew Guy, insists he will not attempt to topple incumbent Michael O’Brien before the 2022 election, calling Tuesday’s failed spill against Mr O’Brien “the end of the matter”.

A handful of Liberal MPs who want Mr Guy returned to the top job worked late into Monday night lobbying colleagues to vote against challenger Brad Battin’s spill motion, which ultimately failed 22 votes to 9.

Former leader Matthew Guy arriving at Parliament on Tuesday, shortly before Brad Battin’s spill was defeated.Credit:Justin McManus

After efforts by those MPs to destabilise Mr O’Brien’s leadership for months, their refusal to back Mr Battin sparked suggestions from some in the party room that Mr Guy was eyeing an imminent coup himself.

Speaking outside Parliament on Wednesday, Mr Guy, the opposition spokesman for finance, jobs and trade, said Mr O’Brien had his full confidence to lead the party to next November’s election.

“We have a leader, it’s Michael. Michael will be there at the election, we’ll fight this thing out with him. OK? I can’t be any clearer than that,” Mr Guy said.

He refused to comment on his move, along with four or five other MPs, to gather in one corner of the party room on Tuesday and show one another their votes to ensure each voted against Mr Battin.

Brad Battin resigned from his shadow portfolios after his tilt at the leadership failed.Credit:Justin McManus

“I don’t talk about that. You’ve seen enough of what happens in the party room,” the former leader said.

Mr Battin’s grab for the leadership caught many of the party’s 31 MPs by surprise, including Mr Guy, whom Mr Battin had previously promised his support to if the former leader wanted to regain the title he lost following a crushing 2018 election defeat to Labor.

The Liberal Party’s devastating election result in Western Australia over the weekend played a role in Mr Battin’s sudden offensive, which was strongly opposed by Mr Guy’s supporters and Mr O’Brien’s closest allies.

Mr Guy labelled any comparison between Victoria and Western Australia “ridiculous” on Wednesday.

“I haven’t seen a single poll that even has our primary vote as low as 31, and that was their two-party preferred vote,” he said.

“We are going for a win at the next election, we are fighting for a win, our state needs us to do that, our state needs the Liberal and National parties to present a strong opposition. Some commentary that we’re headed for some kind of single-seat numbers is ridiculous, it’s stupid and it’s just untrue.”

Mr O’Brien communicated a similar message outside Parliament on Wednesday, saying he was very confident there would be no further challenges to his leadership before the next election and reiterated his claim that Tuesday’s 22-9 result was emphatic.

“If 50 per cent plus one in politics is a landslide, I’ll take 22 to 9 any day,” he said.

The Opposition Leader said it was appropriate Mr Battin and allies Ryan Smith and Nick Wakeling resigned from their shadow cabinet portfolios, but refused to divulge his conversations with the trio on Tuesday. A reshuffle is expected in the coming days.

Mr O’Brien admitted Tuesday’s spill gave a poor impression to voters of a party already lagging behind the Andrews government in polls.

“Anytime a party room focuses on itself is a day when the public says ‘hang on, who are these people working for?’,” he said.

“It was important to get yesterday out of the way, now it’s back to my job – to our job – which is focusing on Victorians. Victorians are the ones who are suffering.”

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