Former opposition leader Matthew Guy was so disliked and the Liberals’ election campaign so negative Victorians had no reason to vote for them, according to the party president.
Greg Mirabella chose to compile his own report on the Liberals’ heavy loss at the 2022 state election rather than holding a formal post-mortem because he believed reviews were often ignored.
Matthew Guy, with wife Renae, conceding defeat on election night. Credit:Jason South
And after conducting interviews with MPs and party officials, Mirabella didn’t hold back when completing his assessment.
Leaked excerpts of the findings, seen by The Age, reveal Mirabella believes Guy was seen as a worse option when voters compared him to Daniel Andrews.
“Andrews, while highly polarising, could not be made more disliked than Matthew Guy,” Mirabella’s report noted. “The 6 per cent drop in ALP vote came back to them in preferences.”
Mirabella described the election strategy as “relentlessly negative”, “wrong and counterproductive”, and criticised it for targeting Andrews.
“Our media material in the final weeks gave voters nothing to vote for and no reason or moral permission to vote Liberal,” Mirabella’s report states.
The review process was informal and not as thorough as previous reviews that have been conducted by party elders. Senior officials, such as the campaign director Sam McQuestin, were not formally interviewed.
Mirabella found the Coalition was unable to capitalise on the slump in Labor’s primary, with the number of Victorians who gave the Liberals and Nationals their first preference vote falling by 0.6 per cent.
Labor was able to cushion the blow of the huge swings it suffered in Melbourne’s outer northern and western suburbs that it held by large margins, winning 56 seats in November – one more than the 2018 Danslide, which was seen by political analysts as a high watermark that could not be replicated.
Former senator and Victorian Liberal Party president Greg Mirabella.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
The Liberal Party lost further support in eastern Melbourne seats such as Glen Waverley, Bayswater and Box Hill, bringing into question how the party expects to win back once-traditional blue-ribbon Liberal seats.
Party insiders familiar with internal Labor and Liberal research believed up until election morning that Labor was likely to win between about 42 and 48 seats. In the aftermath of the election, Andrews told The Age there were times during the campaign he even had doubts that Labor could win the majority necessary to form government for a third consecutive term.
“The statewide Coalition primary has dropped by 0.6 per cent. Labor’s has dropped by 6.2 per cent. We have had some great swings to us in the west and north of Melbourne – 15.1 per cent in Greenvale for example – but these have not resulted in wins, and the swing away from us in some traditional heartland has cost us seats,” Mirabella stated in his report.
“Challenges from teal independents were held off across the state. No independents were successful at all. In large part this would seem due to their inability to fundraise under Victorian donation caps.”
In the aftermath of the election, Andrews said there were times even he had doubts that Labor could win the majority necessary to form government.Credit:Joe Armao
Several Liberals told The Age Guy and McQuestin were so convinced they were going to win, they called the office of NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet to ask whether they had staff who would come to Victoria during the transition process.
Senior Liberal Party campaign strategists were telling candidates the party was on track to win between 16 and 21 seats, and Guy had told colleagues he approached deputy state director Brad Stansfield, who lives in Tasmania, to be his acting chief of staff in government.
“These guys were just witless, feckless, unintelligent and worse,” one Liberal said.
Mirabella’s report, which was presented to the party’s federal executive on Thursday night, echoes similar sentiments to party elder Tony Nutt’s post-mortem of the 2018 election drubbing, with both laying the blame at Guy’s poor image among voters.
It highlighted the “minor scandals” that engulfed the Coalition in the lead-up to November 26, which continued to haunt the opposition leader during the final days of the campaign, including a Liberal donor scandal and growing tensions between Guy and party headquarters.
With just a week left until polling day, Victorian Electoral Commissioner Warwick Gately said his commission had exhausted attempts to fully investigate the donor scandal and referred Guy and his former chief of staff Mitch Catlin to the anti-corruption commission.
They had spent three months examining whether political donation laws were breached when Catlin requested a wealthy Liberal donor make more than $100,000 in payments to his private marketing business.
Catlin resigned from Guy’s office after The Age revealed details of the proposed contract, which was never executed. The opposition leader said he had done nothing wrong, but Gately claimed his team had not received “full cooperation” from the relevant parties “despite public statements to the contrary”.
The party’s in-house lawyer had resigned a month earlier, and sent a damning email saying she could no longer work with the campaign leadership team, who she accused of ignoring her legal advice that some of their key decisions may have broken the law.
One Liberal MP who spoke on the condition of anonymity described the party’s central campaign as “screwed” and “amateurish”, but said MPs and candidates should have taken more responsibility for their own campaigns.
“The campaign from a number of points centrally was screwed,” the MP said. “It was so amateurish. Am I frustrated by that? Yeah, I am. Do I think it should be changed? Yeah, I do. But in the heat of the campaign, you can’t complain – you should be able to get through it. We’re Liberals for goodness sake – one of our principles is self-reliance.
The party is still searching for a new state director to replace McQuestin. A final shortlist has been whittled down to a handful of candidates and a new campaign director could be installed in time for the Aston byelection, for which a date has not been set.
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