'New day for the party': Vic Liberals pick Michael O'Brien as leader
Advertisement

'New day for the party': Vic Liberals pick Michael O'Brien as leader

Michael O'Brien is the new leader of the Liberal Party, with Cindy McLeish as his deputy.

Michael O'Brien is the new leader of the Liberal Party, with Cindy McLeish as his deputy.Credit:Paul Jeffers

Newly elected Opposition Leader Michael O'Brien has promised to lead a changed Liberal Party that will listen better to what Victorians want and move more to the political centre.

The former Napthine government treasurer said his new team would learn the lessons from its election rout.

"As a Carlton supporter I'm used to coming up after a tough loss," Mr O'Brien said.

He said the party would support mainstream values, including freedom of the individual, reward for effort, environmental stewardship and caring for the vulnerable.

Advertisement

“These are positive values, these are inclusive values,” he said.

“We’re a mainstream party with mainstream values and we will be there in the middle of the footy ground fighting for Victorians, engaging in that contest of ideas to make sure we come up with the best solutions to take Victoria forward.

"We need to be back in the centre field of politics. That's where we need to be. That's where Victorians are and that's where the Liberal Party is going to be.

An MP for the safe Liberal seat of Malvern since 2006, Mr O'Brien was elected leader of the Victorian Liberal Party on Thursday morning with MP for Eildon Cindy McLeish elected as his deputy.

In the upper house, David Davis and Georgie Crozier replaced Mary Wooldridge and Gordon Rich-Phillips as leaders.

"This is a new day for the Victorian Liberal Party," Mr O'Brien said.

"We've got work to do. We were sent a message at the ballot box. We've heard that message and we are going to work to make sure that we are better."

The new leader defended some of the policies the opposition took to the election, such as mandatory rehabilitation for drug-addicted youth offenders, and solar panels for state schools, but said the electorate "just didn't know about them".

He also said there should be no argument about climate change, only on the best way to deal with it.

“Let’s not have an argument over whether it’s happening or not,” Mr O’Brien said.

“Let’s have a contest of good ideas about how we can best address it."

He also said Matthew Guy, who led the Victorian Coalition to its heaviest defeat since 2002, would have a place on his front bench if he wanted one.

Mr Guy declined to comment on Thursday.

Ms McLeish, one of just three Liberal women in the new lower house, said the party had much work to do to reconnect with the community and strengthen its brand.

It also needed to work towards greater diversity, she said.

“That’s not just women. We need to look at other groups as well [that] we need to connect with.”

Former leader Matthew Guy leaves the Liberal party room on Thursday.

Former leader Matthew Guy leaves the Liberal party room on Thursday. Credit:Paul Jeffers

Most Liberal MPs who spoke to media on the way into Parliament House on Thursday morning took a view that voters had punished the party for a range of issues, including energy policy, the safe injecting room and federal leadership changes.

Tim Smith, the former shadow education minister, said he would reflect personally on his stance against the medically supervised drug injecting room in Richmond.

He had always believed putting the centre next to a primary school was unacceptable, but it was clear most voters did not agree, Mr Smith said.

Former upper house leader Mary Wooldridge said she had held concerns for some time that the party was leaning too far to the right.

“I’ve always been concerned about the push within the party to head out to the right on so many levels,” Ms Wooldridge said.

“We will win government when we reflect the majority of Victorians’ views and in that regard we need to have a range of moderate views and good Liberal values.”

Upper house MP Bernie Finn was less convinced, arguing the campaign, not the party’s policies, were the problem.

“That campaign that we went through was a disgrace,” he said. “One that, from my experience, and my first campaign was 1974, was the worst campaign I’ve ever experienced in terms of communicating with the electorate.”

He dismissed criticism that the Liberal Party had failed to put enough women in winnable seats, leading to a dearth of female representation in the parliament.

“If the Labor Party and the Greens want to have more women in the party, what they should have done was not defeated them,” Mr Finn said.

Former treasurer Michael O'Brien is the Liberals' new leader.

Former treasurer Michael O'Brien is the Liberals' new leader.Credit:Joe Armao

The government wasted little time in attacking Mr O’Brien, with Deputy Premier James Merlino accusing him of having a “disgraceful” record as treasurer by cutting funds to schools and hospitals.

“Everyone knows that Michael O’Brien is just warming the seat, while his hopelessly divided party finds a way to get John Pesutto back into the parliament,” Mr Merlino said.

Labor also lashed Mr O'Brien's secret move as treasurer in the Napthine government to sign a side letter with the contractors for the East West Link shortly before the 2014 election.

The Andrews government was ultimately forced to pay the contractors more than $1 billion compensation for cancelling the project.

State Political Correspondent for The Age

Benjamin is a state political reporter

Most Viewed in Politics

Loading
Advertisement