Liberals suffer as lady luck does a runner
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Liberals suffer as lady luck does a runner

If someone offers to sell Matthew Guy a lottery ticket this year, the Opposition Leader should save his money.

The federal Coalition’s leadership bloodbath in Canberra last month was just the latest misfortune for the luckless Liberal, who was another onlooker to the events in the national capital that might just have sealed his electoral fate.

Illustration: Matt Davidson

Illustration: Matt Davidson

For the Victorian Liberals, the outcome of Scott Morrison as Prime Minister could have been worse — if Peter Dutton had emerged with the keys to The Lodge, bookies might have started paying out that day on a Labor win in November’s Victorian election.

While voters draw a distinction between state and federal issues when they cast their ballots, the parties’ standing at the national level throws a deep shadow over their efforts in state polls.

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So while Malcolm Turnbull’s unpopular government was always going to be a factor in November’s state contest, probably acting as a slight drag on the Coalition’s vote, it was never going to be decisive.

But the outfit led by Morrison and trying to emerge from the smoking wreck of August? That’s a different story.

The latest published polls show the federal Coalition’s standing against Labor at a dismal 44-56 per cent.

The latest published polls show the federal Coalition’s standing against Labor at a dismal 44-56 per cent.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The latest published polls show the federal Coalition’s standing against Labor at a dismal 44-56 per cent, after preferences, with the government’s primary vote in the basement at 33 per cent.

But those are national figures. In “progressive” Victoria things might be even worse, leaving Guy to battle the considerable damage the bloodletting has done to brand Liberal, as well as his formidable Labor opponents.

Guy’s Coalition has never led Labor in the state opinion polls, and finds itself in the strange position of trying to knock off a first-term government formed by a party that has won four of the past five state elections.

In more bad luck, leaving aside two byelections in NSW, Guy and his Victorian Liberals will be the first of their tribe to taste voters’ verdicts on the power struggle in Canberra, with every other state branch looking on with something other than envy.

But it doesn’t end there. When the leadership tussle produced a sting in the tail with a female MP alleging she was bullied by male colleagues during the week of turmoil, it was just Guy’s luck that the MP happened to be Julia Banks, a Victorian.

Banks’ allegations against her colleagues and her attacks on the party culture detonated in the state branch like a hand grenade, setting off days of internal scrapping that Guy was powerless to do much about.

Politicians don’t talk much about luck; it’s not how they’re wired.

Their triumphs are put down to their own personal genius and their tragedies are blamed on everybody else.

In any event, Matthew Guy is not the type of person to wallow in hard-luck stories.

You could hardly blame him if he did, but he battles on, despite all of the above and more.

Julia Banks says she will quit Parliament at the end of her term.

Julia Banks says she will quit Parliament at the end of her term.Credit:Andrew Meares

It’s not Guy’s fault, for example, that his time as leader should coincide with an attempted takeover of the Victorian branch of the party by a highly organised religious conservative fringe, putting the party’s long-term electability in the state under a cloud.

When Guy attempted to take a stand against the ''ultras'', supporting a challenge to hardline state party president Michael Kroger by the more moderate Peter Reith, Reith had a stroke before the thing went to a vote.

What are the odds?

Even the ''lobster with an alleged mobster'' scandal contained an element of tough luck, being such an easy story to understand; it had that rare and elusive “cut through” quality, meaning you’d have to be on the ocean floor not to have heard about it.

People have done worse things in politics and suffered less for them, often because their misdeeds have been too convoluted to make for a decent yarn.

That complexity is often cited as the most-likely explanation for the baffling lack of punishment Labor has suffered in the polls, so far anyway, for its “red shirts” scandal.

Some of the party’s former campaign workers have been actually arrested, by the actual police for heaven’s sake, and the ALP has still managed to keep its nose in front.

Premier Daniel Andrews’ good breaks don’t begin or end there; Labor is pretty lucky to be in office at all, after being chucked out in 2010 and then getting back just one term later following the implosion of the Baillieu/Napthine Liberal outfit.

Then Andrews and his treasurer Tim Pallas found themselves sitting on bucketfuls of money, able to build hugely-expensive transport projects and to promise even more of the costly infrastructure that everyone seems to agree is political gold right now.

None of this is to suggest that Guy hasn’t made mistakes or that Andrews hasn’t been skilful in making the most of his opportunities.

But the contrast in the two men’s fortunes is still striking.

The Victorian Coalition has now endured a horror few weeks, what with the debacle in Canberra, the aftershocks in Victoria and a couple of successful Labor policy announcements that seem to have shifted momentum in the government’s favour.

Only Guy’s latest troubles over his past as planning minister, back this week with a vengeance, could be said to be in any way self-inflicted.

Regardless of whose fault it is, the Liberals need to change the trajectory soon, before they lose control of their own destiny in this state election campaign, and the ability to decisively influence events slips from their grasp.

With Guy’s track record, you wouldn’t want to be betting on salvation from an external factor — Morrison pulling off a miraculous turnaround, say, or a Labor minister led off in handcuffs over ''red shirts''.

That could be too much to hope for. But your luck has got to change some time, right?

Noel Towell is state political editor.