Who’s this Guy?

The odds are against a Coalition victory in the upcoming Victorian state elections, Mathew Guy is not known by many especially those he wants in the outer growth suburbs, where most of the anti-Dan anti-lockdown discontent has been fermented since 2020

An energetic Mathew Guy in a white shirt and blue jeans, accompanied by his wife Renae and two advisers, enters Mellissa restaurant in Lower Templestowe. He orders a piccolo and starts on the US Midterm elections.

“This was a message to the Republican Party, they do not want Trump, they crave stability, the want the centre.” They need new leadership leaders that are more like Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton, “even, Obama”, says Guy says, “who try to unify”.

The Victorian Opposition leader is quick to distance himself from the right. “Right wing journalists say I need to be more like Trump, but they do not understand the Australian electorate, and they certainly don’t understand a Victorian electorate,” he says.

The lesson seems to be have been learned from the 2018 election, when the Coalition was mauled by Labor; dog whistling on African gangs, lines from Liberal HQ in Canberra didn’t work in Victoria.

Guy pins “division” on Premier Dan Andrews.

“Victorians want a leader who can govern and be seen trying to govern for the whole state, and I would contend that we’ve got a premier who operates by division.”

Yet, division seem to be at the core of the latest Liberal advertisement which blasts vaccine mandates, which refers to  Andrews as a “prick” and uses footage from the violent union protests outside the CFMU headquarters during the second long lockdown in Victoria. In The Guardian Guy said the ad only repeated words of the “union movement”.

“We are attacking policy, not individuals, and vaccine mandates was a policy that was put in place by this government.”

“A discussion on policy is fair game.”

Fix-it Guy

Public health has never been a cause célèbre for conservatives, public health is Labor faith. Covid, and years of ‘rationalisation’ – by all governments – exposed major gaps in our public health services. Kafkaesque scenes in emergency waiting rooms, endless time for elective surgeries, and more, we all felt them.

Guy has made health central to his campaign. Neoliberalism is now out of vogue and in the post Covid Keynesian mood, conservatives also spend on services.

“Fix the health system” he says. “Shutting borders and locking people in their homes is not a sign of policy success it’s a sign of policy failure. ”

“A lot of the world did not do this and if they did, they did not have one of the longest lockdowns in the world.”

He says that we need a Royal Commission, “to ask ‘what did we did well and what did we do poorly?’.”

He promises 40,000 new nurses and midwives “in the first term” and says he’ll “halve elective surgery waiting lists”.

He wants to ensure ambulance emergency response time is “fixed and $480 million has been committed and retrain more staff”.

“We will provide scholarships and help with visa requirements, for people overseas, as an immediate injection into the health system.”

The cost of all, Guy is adamant will be met by scrapping Labor’s promised, suburban rail loop.

Just over half of the $11 billion he says, in forward estimates for the loop, “around $6 billion”, is needed to fix our creaking health system.

Opposition Leader Matthew Guy during the 2022 Victorian state election campaign in Melbourne. Photo: AAP/Con Chronis NO ARCHIVING

Righteous Guy

Guy has targeted Andrews on probity and knows that a view in the outer suburbs is growing “that there’s something smelly about the government”.

IBAC in an uncharacteristically activist move, just before an election revealed that the premier was investigated in a secret Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) probe over his role in the awarding of two grants worth $3.4 million to a Labor-linked union on the eve of the 2018 election.

“In Frankston it was a constant in conversation, people were talking about probity, integrity in corruption.”

“There is something wrong with the government, the Andrews government is the only government in Victoria’s history to take probity agencies to court to stop them releasing material.”

A risky strategy for someone, who was often under attack as planing minister in the last time the Coalition  held government in Victoria, when he was branded as ‘a friend of developers’.

Outlier Guy

Guy wants to do a Steve Bracks, who beat Jeff Kennett, or Ted Bailleu, who beat John Brumby. Both former premiers won as outliers against well-funded and entrenched incumbents.

The battle between Labor and the Coalition, he believes, will be fought in the outer suburbs.

Teals colonised safe Liberal seats who have warmed to the upper-middle class progressives.

The former Bailleu planning minister says that population growth has much to do with the shifts.

“Melbourne has added the population of Perth since the year 2000, two million people, and when you add the population of the fourth largest city to the second largest city in the space of 20 years it will change demographics.”

“Professionals, have gone into the inner urban areas, established areas that are commutable.”

The once working-class, northside and westside inner-city suburbs are also abandoning Labor for the Greens’ more fashionable politics.

The most strident anti-Dan sentiment is in the outer growth suburbs peopled by new immigrants, middle ranking professionals, small businesspeople, and tradies. Covid and lockdowns were particularly challenging for them and that is where Guy is focused.

“We’re seen major demographic changes in the suburbs – we’re looking at potentially winning Melton, and Werribee – we’ve never ever held Melton, it is only 4 per cent swing, and in Cranbourne is 9 per cent,” he is enthusiastic.

The danger there is that the anti-Dan sentiment may leave Labor but go to fringe anti-vax, right wing parties, not the Liberals.

“Kids knowing their family’s and community’s language can play a greater part in our economy, they can work in countries, and can then learn other languages easier once they know their own heritage language,” the Ukrainian speaker says.

“You must teach languages that kids have an affiliation with at home to start with, and you can do these things remotely.”

He wants to set up a special unit the Department of Premier and Cabinet to “make sure that all government agencies are adhering to advertising in independent multicultural media”.

“I think it’s, so important that we use this media to communicate with people as I tell my own people.”

Mathew Guy with two young Greek Australian fans. Photo: Supplied

Optimistic Guy

After the interview, Guy is approached by the two young Greek Australian women working in Mellissa. They are fans.

Mellissa is emblematic of the demographic shifts since the 1990s. The once a small café in a grungy Collingwood, is now a sparkling indoor and outdoor restaurant and bar in an aspirational multicultural region.

“Look where we are now” Guys says, “it’s Liberal, 40 years ago it was the Labor seat of Diamond Valley”.

The suburb boasts of 200 language groups – Mandarin and Cantonese represent 17 per cent, Greek sit at 9 per cent, Italian at 4 per cent.

Guy hopes the demographic changes will help him take office after November 26. Optimism may not be enough though, there are many seats to regain.

Democracy is surprising, in the end its about the brutality of numbers. Bailleu and Bracks were outliers, unexpected winners who beat formidable incumbents with wafer thin majorities. Then again…