Victoria’s Coalition and Opposition Leader, Matthew Guy has the most challenging and arduous job in the political scene of the state. The recent brawl in the federal Liberal party, resulting in the dethroning of the elected PM of the country, didn’t help him. Instead of focusing on the upcoming electoral contest in Victoria, Mr Guy and the Liberals had to turn on damage control mode, neutralise the issue they had no control over and hope that their message to the voters of Victoria will not be diluted in the ‘poisonous fog’ of revenge politics that had engulfed the federal Liberal Party.
Mr Guy had to be back in control. After all, that’s what his pitch to the people of Victoria is all about. The slogan of his campaign – ‘Back in Control’ – leaves no doubt about that.
The son of Ukraine-born parents who migrated to Australia in 1949, after being displaced in the aftermath of WWII, grew up in the modest suburb of Montmorency. He knows all about struggles, determination, the hunger and the passion to do the best when given a second chance.
He was elevated to the position of the Leader of the state Liberals after the bruising loss of the Liberal – Nationals, Napthine government, a government that will mostly be remembered not for its action but lack thereof.
Guy though is – or promises to be – different. He has plans, he shows a go-getter attitude and while he knows that he is the underdog in this electoral contest, he believes that the people of Victoria will eventually give him the right to govern.
Instead of Neos Kosmos going to him, he came to us; riding on his campaign bus, no less.
He looked tired, but not exhausted, and tanned – he lives in the bus these days – armed with a generous smile and his good humour.
He even betrayed his long standing relationship with his favourite short black coffee for a Greek one, which we served him accompanied by a couple of relevant questions to the Greek community of Melbourne.
IT’S NOT AN AUCTION
While Labor has embarked in a spending spree on all fronts, including the Greek community, the Liberal Nationals Coalition had been a lot more cautious in these matters. I ask him to explain why:
“I don’t think it’s just about money. It’s not an auction in my view. The Premier likes to promise money at election time, but there’s a lot of other things to do. And yes, we’ve got promises to the Greek community, which we want to make but it is more than that, it’s about cost of living; it’s about crime and keeping the state safe, it’s about congestion, it’s about population growth, it’s about the future of the state and the Greek community is integral to our state’s future. So I think it’s more than just showing up at election time with commitments and funds. It’s how you conduct yourself over four years.”
On things Greek he chose not to give hot cash to the Greek Community of Melbourne and Victoria, but to intervene and rezone its Bulleen plot. Is this commitment set in concrete?
“It is because for that land there is already a planning panel report. It is worth a lot of money for the Greek community, huge amount of money and the government has now put their plans out for the North East link, which makes it virtually worthless. So that land should be rezoned and the whole precinct should be, from the Italians and the Veneto club, a precinct for the two biggest communities of Melbourne which is the Italian and the Greek communities.”
COST OF LIVING, PENSIONERS AND CRIME
The interview was conducted hours before he announced his TV and fridges trade-in program for low-income households in Victoria. I ask him to address the plight of pensioners who in many cases live on the verge of poverty due to the increasing cost of living.
“We have announced energy concessions for up to $530 for pensioners annually in energy bills. For pensioners with pensioners card who will apply for this scheme, the government will purchase electricity in a concession rate from a power provider and pass on the saving to them. So rather than each pensioner buying their own power and seeking their own discount, we will bulk purchase, so we will get a better price. That’s how they did it in South Australia and they received a better price and in Queensland too. It has been tried and it works.”
The Bourke Street terrorist attack got many Victorians who previously dismissed Guy’s stance on the law and order issue as nothing but scare mongering rhetoric, to think twice. The coalition leader in the context of his policies on how he will keep the state safe, had announced that he will spend almost $690 million to expand the prison in Lara adding 1300 beds. His punitive approach in solving the “crime crisis” – as he calls the current state of affairs on the streets of Melbourne – has proven ineffective in other countries. I ask him why he thinks that his ‘get tough’ approach will make Victoria safer.
“We have from education, to prevention to jail. We have three levels of trying to solve crime not just punitive. We have police in schools, a program which is very important, so students and police develop a better relationship of respect rather than just having their first interaction being a combative one. We will create Australia’s first mandatory rehabilitation facility, so we can actually get people off drugs, because a lot of the new crime is around drugs. And then yes there are punitive measures because there are people who should be behind bars, who are on the streets. We are seeing this from people who are time and time and time again are committing crimes and whether it takes four, five times for them to receive a custodial sentence, they are hurting people in the process. We need to put these people behind bars.”
PLAN B FOR VICTORIANS
He chose to be the Leader of the Opposition but surely he prefers to shake this title off for the unquestionably more prestigious one, that is the one of the Premier. So why should people support him with their vote in order for him to achieve it?
Here is his three point plan.
“We are going to cut the cost of living. We are going to make people safer and we are going to get back in control of our population growth,” he says.
“These are our three key messages about how we want to change the state for the longer term. I will lead an inclusive government to ensure long term for Victoria. Not just focusing for the next election. For the short term is fixing issues around crime. Medium term around congestion and affordability which relates to the cost of living and in the longer term is around decentralisation and regionalisation. Cutting taxes, encouraging people to country Victoria, growing the whole state, taking the pressure off Melbourne.”
And what if Saturday proves to be the not a lucky day for Mr Guy. What does his future hold?
“I am not even focused on that,” he says. “I will deal with it after election day. I will honestly face it, when it comes. I have to be focused on what I want to do and the plans we’ve got and you know we’ve got a lot closer in the last weeks that’s for sure. So it’s very close and it will be a seat by seat election,” he concludes.