Confused about the state of affairs in the Victorian election? Can’t separate your Guys from your Dans, or your Ratnams from your Walshes? Crikey is here to help with a series of primers on the major players in the upcoming state poll.

Today: opposition leader Matthew Guy.

Early Career

Just as Premier Daniel Andrews is “a party apparatchik from Central Casting”, Guy is almost a textbook ambitious young Liberal: he joined the party at 16 and worked as a researcher for then-premier Jeff Kennett in the 1990s, before going on to be chief-of-staff to another former Liberal leader, Denis Napthine, and a media adviser to former federal senator Rod Kemp.

In 2002, he was unable to take the safe Labor seat of  Yan Yean. He got another crack in 2006, this time in the upper house, securing the top spot on the Liberal ticket for the Northern Metropolitan Region. He quickly became shadow minister for planning.

He opposed the abortion reform introduced by John Brumby’s Labor government. “Tail-docking a dog would be illegal, putting a lobster in boiling water would be illegal, but it will be legal to abort a six-month-old child if this Bill passes,” he said at the time. It would not be the last time that a) Guy’s policy positions would be informed by his conservative Christianity, or, b) the words “lobster” and “hot water” would be connected to Guy’s name.

IN GOVERNMENT

Ted Ballilieu led the Liberals to government in 2010 and Guy became minister for planning, a position from which he managed to attract a career’s worth of controversy in about four years. 

Phillip Island

Firstly, Guy — overruling a decision by the Bass Coast Shire Council — allowed the rezoning of farming property in the township of Ventnor in Phillip Island, thus allowing it to be used for development. The rezoning was universally opposed by locals (as well as Miley Cyrus) and, apparently, under pressure from Liberal Party heavy-weights (and Greg Hunt), Guy backflipped.

But that wasn’t the end of it. The owner of the land claimed they had only bought it after a “kitchen table” meeting with Guy in which Guy indicated the land would be rezoned (something he denied doing). She sued the state government, and was eventually awarded a multimillion-dollar payout. It was revealed in 2018, after the Andrews government tabled over 80,000 pages of confidential documents concerning Guy’s time as planning minister, that Guy personally ordered the settlement.

Mr Skyscraper

By march of 2013, Guy had approved 20 high-rise developments in inner-Melbourne and rejected just one. RMIT University planning professor Michael Buxton said at the time that Guy’s was a “terrible legacy of mess he’s going to leave when he moves on as minister'”. Curiously, the one time he really was worried about the impact of high rises was an 88-metre apartment tower that would have blocked views to the bay from an existing apartment tower in which “active Liberal Party supporters” — Guy’s colleague Andrea Coote and former Howard minister Peter Reith — live.

The other kind of development he actively opposes is wind farm technology — restricting the locations they could be built and introducing “no-go” zones in several areas of Victoria. He slightly rowed back in his final months as planning minister

IN OPPOSITION

When the Libs were turfed out after a single term, Guy (having dropped into the lower house) beat out former treasurer Michael O’Brien to become Victorian Liberal leader — something he’d been priming for for years. In the four years since, he’s thrown a few more gaffes on the pile.

‘Lobster with a mobster’

The Labor government’s publication of the Phillip Island debacle (which true to form, they managed to balls up and accidentally released a bunch of peoples’ personal details) in some ways seems gratuitous when they have such a rich source of other issues to exploit, the most appetising being the headline-ready revelation that in early, 2017 Guy dined at the Lobster Cave restaurant with Tony Madafferi, a man repeatedly alleged to be a high-ranking member of Melbourne’s Mafia. The saga was widely predicted to cost the Libs the upcoming election.

No Good Friday

On the day before Good Friday this year, the legislative council was debating the government’s fire services bill. Liberal MLCs Craig Ondarchie and Bernie Finn requested leave for religious reasons due to Good Friday observance, and Labor granted a pair. But when the bill was put to the vote, Ondarchie and Finn amazingly returned to the chamber and voted against it, ensuring it was defeated by a single vote. 

“The means were absolutely justified and I stand by it and I would do the same tomorrow,” was Guy’s response. Guy also wants to teach kids about “values” and says things like “I’m not ashamed to call myself a Christian”.

Crime and punishment

In light of this, perhaps it’s ironic that the most reliable refrain of Guy’s campaigning (enthusiastically backed by his federal colleagues) has been to criticise the Andrews government (which has happily signed up to a massive expansions of the surveillance state and promised military-style semi-automatics for police) as “soft on crime”. 

This reached a peak on Tuesday, when Guy and Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited Pellegrini’s cafe, the Melbourne institution whose well loved co-owner was killed in a terror attack last week. While both insisted they weren’t politicising the tragedy, Guy nevertheless pointed out “We’ll make sure those who commit crime are appropriately punished, that first responders, who are protecting us, have every method at their disposal to keep us safe.” 

Peter Fray

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