Will Frank McGuire be the next Labor premier of Victoria? That’s what Melbourne powerbrokers are pondering this morning after the Broady boy turned Brighton silvertail completed his predictable victory waltz to a seat in the Victorian lower house.
Despite a 11.8% swing against the ALP on Saturday, McGuire has Broadmeadows, likely to remain the party’s safest seat, for as long as he wants it. He’s toting an ambitious reform agenda and belongs to one of the most powerful and successful families in Victoria.
But more importantly, McGuire’s connections to the city’s business and media elite runs deep. If the outgoing member for Broadmeadows, John Brumby, ran his own “Premier’s faction” outside the Right to which he notionally belonged, then Frank, by virtue of his and his brother’s standing, could easily form his own “McGuire faction” inside caucus.
Several prominent Melburnians contacted by Crikey suggested McGuire was now odds-on to plow a path through shadow cabinet, followed by a knifing of Daniel Andrews in the lead-up or aftermath of 2014. The common refrain was that he clearly hadn’t entered politics to warm the back benches. But others were less convinced, citing his sometimes awkward social skills and alleged analytical shortcomings.
Under repeated prodding from Jon Faine on ABC 774 Melbourne this morning, the pugnacious MLA was sticking firmly to the script:
Faine: “…but this is a stepping stone to other things for you?”
McGuire: “No I want to be really clear on this, this is important because it’s actually taken through the last period of the Brumby and Bracks government to actually get that infrastructure…so we got the first library but we did more than that, we built a Global Learning Village [also a library].”
Even if McGuire stays true, for now, to the factional interests of Bill Shorten and Stephen Conroy — whose apparatchiks deliberately delayed the search for an alternative Broadmeadows candidate to ensure their man got the gig — potential burrowing opportunities still abound.
One senior ALP source told Crikey that the prospect of a rapid rise through the ranks was a strong possibility, given some of the questionable talent occupying the shadow front bench from both sides of the divided right.
“If you have a look at both rights, Frank would certainly be in the top 10 talent-wise and he’s got a very broad interest in public policy.”
Of the fresh faces recently entering the front bench, McGuire would probably leapfrog Adem Somuyrek and Fiona Richardson in any face-off and John Lenders’ inevitable retirement from the upper house could also open a vacancy. And given McGuire’s abiding interest in libraries, a possible shadow education portfolio might become available, either in a reshuffle, or following the hotly-rumoured departure of current shadow Rob Hulls prior to the next election.
But perhaps the easiest route to 1 Treasury Place may lie with the premature death of the ShortCon right’s former great white hope in Justin Madden — once considered Premier material — following the Windsor Hotel debacle.
(Ambitious MPs on the other side of the right include Tim Holding and James Merlino, however that duo appears to have little support beyond their marginalised clique of backers from the NUW and SDA. Barring a McGuire defection, they would have little chance of influencing a future tilt).
But if the spark surrounding McGuire is real, he may need to lean on Labor HQ for some fresh lines. In his first two days in the job, the freshly-minted MP has repeatedly used an anecdote, that first appeared in this Bruce Guthrie column a week ago, of a question he asked the retiring head of the premier’s department, Major-General Ken Green, following his departure in 1982. As we now know ad-nauseum, Green famously named “Broadmeadows” as the greatest failure of Henry Bolte’s 17-year-old administration, inspiring Frank in his life’s work.
In an encouraging sign, McGuire yesterday penned an ambitious op-ed himself, presumably written before the results had come in, retailing his parents’ history in the area and their hard-scrabble life hosing down the housing commission digs in the summer because it was too hot.
But it was a sentence on his reform ambitions, notably a “co-ordinated strategy for innovation and the use of technology to develop lifelong learning, training and smarter jobs” that really got tongues wagging. Ominously, McGuire wants to establish a Broadmeadows “multiversity”, which sounds exactly like the kind of proposal to springboard the brother of Eddie firmly into the state’s political consciousness.