That’s how long opposition MPs say they held the moral high ground to campaign on new integrity policies before they were derailed by revelations Matthew Guy’s chief of staff wanted a donor to make more than $100,000 in payments to his private marketing business.
Matthew Guy addresses the media on Tuesday morning.Credit:Wayne Taylor
As part of a now-obsolete integrity pledge made on Saturday, the Coalition promised to provide training for public servants so they could “identify, prevent and speak out against improper conduct”.
There was no coincidence about the timing of that announcement. With 16 weeks until the election, the opposition thought pummelling the Andrews government on integrity was a sure-fire winner.
The announcement piggybacked a report by two state integrity watchdogs that exposed a rotten culture and rampant nepotism inside Victorian Labor and prompted an apology from the premier.
Four days ago, it looked like a smart political strategy by the Coalition.
Fast-forward to Tuesday and Guy’s chief of staff, Mitch Catlin, had quit within hours of the story going live and the government had referred the saga, including the opposition leader’s part in it, to the anti-corruption watchdog, the electoral commission and law enforcement agencies for further investigation.
“How am I meant to campaign on integrity now?” one Liberal MP asked on Tuesday.
It comes after recent polling published by The Age revealed so-called teal candidates – and their plans to clean up politics – were proving popular in Liberal-held seats such as Brighton, Sandringham, Kew and Caulfield.
Opposition MPs said they were not particularly surprised by the proposal, put forward last September, for a secret Liberal donor to pay Guy’s chief of staff, but they were shocked by Guy’s decision to accept his resignation.
Mitch Catlin quit his role with the opposition on Tuesday.Credit:Tash Sorensen
“In my gut, I expected him to dig in,” one said.
By accepting Catlin’s resignation, Guy wanted to send a message to his party room that he understood the gravity of the situation. After all, there is an election to win.
Guy also no doubt hoped cutting Catlin loose would end the saga, instead of dragging the party through a damaging scandal for weeks.
But there remain two central problems that Guy has failed to address.
First, he insisted nothing happened. Nothing was signed. He also insisted nothing was agreed to – if that’s the case, why did he accept the resignation of his chief of staff in the first place?
Second, in the leaked email from September, Catlin suggested Guy was aware of the proposed contract when he said “as per the original email agreement between you and me”.
If Guy first learnt about the proposal 10 months ago, why did it take him until Tuesday to act?
The greatest problem for Guy is that he has never been especially popular in Victoria. Since returning to the role of opposition leader last year, he has worked overtime to present himself as a viable alternative to Premier Daniel Andrews, who pollsters report has become an increasingly polarising figure.
Privately, many of Guy’s colleagues have questioned his judgment during his career on Spring Street, from botched planning decisions on Phillip Island to his decision to remain at a dinner with an alleged mafia boss in what is commonly referred to as the “lobster with a mobster” meeting.
But colleagues were ultimately wooed by his enthusiasm, charisma and ability to attract fundraising dollars.
This scandal has pushed Liberal MPs into a state of heightened anxiety. But with no eager replacement in the wings, Guy’s position as opposition leader isn’t at risk. Instead, according to one MP, it remains a case of “watch and act”.
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