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Victorian politics LIVE: Michael O’Brien faces Liberal leadership test

Late on Monday night, MPs who support former leader Matthew Guy decided they would not back the challenge to Liberal leader Michael O’Brien.

The decision of the group of about four MPs means the challenger, frontbencher Brad Battin, will face serious difficulty succeeding.

Michael O’Brien, Brad Battin and Matthew Guy.

Michael O’Brien, Brad Battin and Matthew Guy.Credit:Darrian Traynor, Daniel Pockett, Eddie Jim

Mr Battin’s supporters last night labelled Guy’s camp ‘hypocrites of the century’ for not getting behind the push because Mr Guy’s supporters have been destabilising Mr O’Brien for months.

One senior Liberal, furious with the rebels, called Mr Battin and his key supporters including Richard Riordan ‘hillbillies’.

MPs believe Mr Guy wants to make a tilt for the leadership closer to the election.

The internal angst is not between supporters and opponents of Mr O’Brien. Rather, it is between two groups who dislike Mr O’Brien but have different ideas about how to defeat him.

Ever since Julius Caesar was stabbed to death in the Roman Senate, March 15 has been considered an unlucky day for politicians. Like Caesar, Liberal leader Michael O’Brien ignored weeks of whispers warning “Beware the Ides of March”, only to betrayed by a colleague on Monday.

For months now it has been difficult to find a member of the Victorian Liberal Party who was confident O’Brien would lead them to the next election. It has always been a matter of when, not if. Recently, The Age reported a new plot to challenge O’Brien in one of three sitting weeks before March. The story was dismissed, the warnings were ignored.

Again, on Saturday night when Labor recorded a historic victory in Western Australia, O’Brien’s office tried to spin the loss as a consequence of switching from an experienced leader to someone lacking in credibility. They naively thought the party would lap it up.

The Liberal Party’s loss in Western Australia left it reduced to just a few seats in that state’s Parliament. It was the final straw for self-interested MPs in Victoria, terrified of losing their seats next year.

The only reason O’Brien had remained safe for so long was the lack of a credible challenger. A separate plot to reinstall Matthew Guy as leader has been under way for weeks. Guy’s backers thought they had more time.

The majority of the party room now believe Guy would win in a contest between him and O’Brien.

On Monday, Brad Battin – Spring Street’s answer to Brutus – scuttled that plan when he revealed his own plan to topple O’Brien. But, in doing so, he may have gifted O’Brien more time. It is likely that a majority of MPs will support the motion to spill the leadership positions. But Battin may struggle to secure enough votes to become leader.

Read the full analysis piece here.

A little bit of background on the likely main contender for challenging Michael O’Brien’s job, Brad Battin.

He’s a 45-year-old father of two and the current opposition spokesman for roads, youth justice and crime prevention.

Gembrook MP Brad Battin.

Gembrook MP Brad Battin.Credit:Justin McManus

His emergence as a prime candidate is a surprise because his key backers are not those who have previously been reported as Mr O’Brien’s main adversaries, including Craig Ondarchie, Beverley McArthur, Tim Smith and James Newbury.

Mr Battin is expected by his supporters to be more popular among suburban and multicultural voters than Mr O’Brien, who colleagues believe has not communicated effectively with these groups.

He gained prominence campaigning against the Andrews government’s reforms to the Country Fire Authority, and is one of the party’s only MPs who represents an outer-suburban seat – Gembrook – which he won from Labor in 2010.

Victorian Liberal leader Michael O’Brien said on Monday he is the right person to take up the fight to Premier Daniel Andrews at the next election.

The Liberal leader expressed confidence in his position as he left his Spring Street office on Monday afternoon, where other backers including frontbecher Ed O’Donohue said getting rid of Mr O’Brien would be a “big mistake”.

“I’m confident my leadership will be supported by my party and I don’t think the spill motion will get up,” Mr O’Brien said.

“As a former treasurer, we know that rebuilding this state … is so critical and who better placed than a former treasurer to do what we need to do.”

Good morning Age readers, and welcome to our live coverage of the possible leadership challenge within the Victorian Liberal Party this morning.

Months of speculation about opposition leader Michael O’Brien’s future atop the Victorian Liberal Party will possibly come to a head this morning with a party room meeting at 8.45am.

Little-known Liberal frontbencher Brad Battin – who holds the shadow portfolios of youth justice, crime prevention, victims support, roads and road safety – is expected to mount a challenge in the party room this morning and has promised to fight Premier Daniel Andrews more fiercely, advocate for small businesses and create new portfolios to boost the party’s prospects.

My name is Rachael Dexter and I’ll be bringing you live updates from my colleagues at Parliament House Annika Smethurst and Paul Sakkal as they happen.

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