This is an opinion piece that was published in Farrago Edition Three on 24 April 2015. Farrago has been the student magazine of the University of Melbourne since 1925.
The name of the state opposition leader is something that people often don’t learn until they’ve succeeded in becoming the premier, and sometimes not even then, if you have the misfortune of having two first names as your name (poor Andrew Daniels). However, one Guy is different. Here is a Guy who was involved in a bizarre stoush over real estate with Miley Cyrus. He is a Guy who will probably not appreciate the Liberal amount of puns that I am Abbott to make in this article, but I Jeff Kennett help myself. I’m talking, of course, about… Hang on, let me Google his name again.
The great irony for the Liberals in Victoria is that, if Labor had miraculously somehow won the 2013 federal election, the former Victorian government led by Liberal Denis Napthine may have fared better than it ultimately did in the election last year. Alongside having to deal with a prime minister who seems determined to be a one-man opposition party against his own party, the Victorian Liberals suffered when $3 billion in funding Kevin Rudd had promised to Napthine to finance the metro rail tunnel was scrapped by Tony Abbott, leaving funding only for road projects like the infamous East-West link. The previous Coalition government was elected in 2010 after Victorians grew tired of a decade of Labor rule, but the only thing they really did while in power was randomly change leadership mid-cycle. Small wonder then that they lost the state election; Napthine subsequently resigned, and the new Guy ascended to the leadership of the Victorian Liberals.
So who is this Guy? Known unaffectionately as ‘Mr Skyscraper’ because of a number of controversial high-rise developments, including the construction of what would have been the tallest tower in the southern hemisphere in Melbourne, Matthew Guy was the Minister for Planning in the Napthine Government. This Guy first crossed my radar when he upset a lot of the locals living in my native Phillip Island in 2011 by announcing the rezoning of an area of picturesque, coastal farmland for residential development. This prompted outcry in the local community, especially because he had overruled the local council in the decision. A number of high profile people got involved in the campaign opposing the development, including Miley Cyrus, who was dating former local Liam Hemsworth at the time. She tweeted that Phillip Island was a ‘magical’ place that was a real life ‘FernGully’ (which perplexes me because, aside from some fairy penguins, it’s really quite ordinary). Guy abandoned his decision the very next day.
Does Guy have a chance at the next state election? He’s well loved inside the party; his youth signals a generational change, he seems energetic and, most importantly, he has lots of factional support. Sounding like a generic description? That’s because our so-called ‘leaders’ are now increasingly seeming like clones of each other; people like bland Dan Andrews, Anna ‘GST?’ Palaszczuk, and the Abbottcalypse are sidling into office without scrutiny only because of the predecessor’s incompetence and not because they provide any inspiration or vision. Since losing the election, the Liberals have largely vanished into thin air, and Guy has not committed to any solid policy; that seems to be the way to win an election in the politics of our current era.
Though Victoria was once the bastion of the Liberals during their golden era of Menzies, their support in Victoria has steadily diminished as hardline conservatism and neoliberalism has become increasingly dominant in the party room. As the most progressively-minded state in Australia, rapidly changing cultural demographics has increasingly led to Victorians shying away from Coalition governments; the brief interruption by the Baillieu/Napthine regime can be seen as Victorians taking a breather from Labor following a decade of Labor government, and after the maelstrom of incompetence that ensued following their ascension, the Liberals are probably doomed to another decade in the wilderness. For a party that supposedly believes in small government, they certainly didn’t act like it. In its death throes, the Liberals seemed to literally be throwing money at everything they could, at a time when Abbott and Hockey were talking about the need to reduce government spending and repay the debt. Elections no longer seem a debate over the role and size of government, but merely a battle between both sides to outspend each other. To succeed, the Liberal party must return to its more ‘liberal’ roots; promoting small government while being socially progressive.