A bid to overthrow Victorian Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien has failed.
A motion to bring on a leadership vote was defeated 22-9 to in a party room meeting at state parliament on Tuesday morning.
“The party is very strongly resolved to keep the current leadership group in place, and that means we can get out and focus on Victorians,” Mr O’Brien told reporters after the failed spill.
He said he was shocked to learn of the challenge to his leadership while taking his wife to hospital for an operation on Monday morning.
“It’s funny how life throws curveballs at you sometimes, but it actually is a reminder that there are more important things than politics,” Mr O’Brien said.
“(My wife is) going well and the great news is my party has just re-endorsed the leadership team.”
Brad Battin – opposition spokesman for road safety, crime prevention, victims support and youth justice – had been hoping to usurp Mr O’Brien, who took over leadership of the party after its crushing election defeat in 2018.
But he failed to garner the support of enough MPs, including a key group aligned with former leader Matthew Guy, who decided to vote against the spill.
“This is not an embarrassment for me,” Mr Battin said.
“We’ve had discussions in the media about what’s happening with our leadership and it needed to be put to a party room vote. I respect the decision of the party room.”
Mr O’Brien has faced criticism for failing to land any blows on Premier Daniel Andrews and his Labor government amid the coronavirus pandemic, particularly on the bungled hotel quarantine program that led to the state’s second wave of infections.
Mr Battin said the party had a “great opportunity to reset”.
“We need to make sure that our messaging is around business, is around families. And when we talk about the economy, it has to be how it impacts on people,” he said.
Mr Battin said he hoped he would be able to remain on the front bench.
“I’m a strong performer within the team and I think I’ve proven that in the past. I want to continue to be part of a strong team going forward,” he said.
Mr O’Brien arrived about 8.20am on Tuesday flanked by his key supporters, senior MPs Georgie Crozier, David Davis, Cindy McLeish and Louise Staley.
He said he was confident he would remain the party’s leader at the November 2022 election.
“The focus will be on rebuilding the state, rebuilding Victoria from the economic devastation that we’re currently seeing,” he said.
“My team and I are so well placed to do that. We’ve got the economic credentials, we’ve got the experience, and we have the ideas and the vision for Victoria.”
Liberal MPs told AAP the spill push was triggered in part by Western Australia’s election at the weekend, which reduced the Liberal party to as few as two seats in the lower house.
Mr O’Brien said “no state opposition is loving life” amid the pandemic.
“There’s always a natural focus on governments at the best of times but in a pandemic that’s magnified. We’re seeing that right across the country,” he said.
“In Victoria, we don’t have an election next week or the end of this year, it’s November next year.”
Acting Premier James Merlino, who was in Moonee Ponds making a Jobs Victoria announcement, said the spill proved “how irrelevant the Liberal Party is”.
“We’re focused on creating 400,000 jobs, they’re focused on just one job, that of the opposition leader,” he said.
“They’re chaotic, they’re a rabble and they’re irrelevant.”