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New Liberal leader stakes his claim on centre ground - THE AUSTRALIAN

Posted on 7 December 2018
New Liberal leader stakes his claim on centre ground - THE AUSTRALIAN






Victoria's new Liberal leader has vowed to function as a centrist who is mindful of climate change but does not want to get overwhelmed by dysfunctional internal analysis.

Michael O'Brien, 47, is a former senior adviser to federal treasurer Peter Costello, and was elevated to the leadership yesterday after the November 24 rout led to Matthew Guy's resignation.

Mr O'Brien will implement an overhaul of the party just months from a federal election and try to unite depleted forces without a permanent party president.

Rural MP Cindy McLeish was elected his deputy, veteran frontbencher David Davis as leader in the upper house and frontbencher Georgie Crozier as deputy upperhouse leader.

Declaring a new era, Mr O'Brien said his partyroom endorsement came at a time when the community was expecting the Liberals to learn lessons from the electoral rout. "This is a new day for the Liberal Party; this is a fresh start for the Liberal Party," he said.

"We've got work to do: we were sent a message at the ballot box, we've heard that message and we're going to work to make sure we are better." With just three Liberal women in the 88-seat lower house, the party is expected to embark on an aggressive strategy of drafting more women into the parliament.

"We're going to be a team that listens and learns the lessons of this election," Mr O'Brien said.

"We need to be back in the centrefield 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." The Dublin-born Mr O'Brien, 47, was Victorian treasurer under Denis Napthine in the last Coalition government and has been opposition Treasury spokesman for the past four years.

He is economically conservative and will lead 26 Coalition MPs in the 88-seat parliament. Labor has won 56 seats, according to the latest estimates yesterday.

While pundits are dismissing the election result as a two- or three-term loss, the party is banking its re-election fortunes on the uncertain economy, particularly over real estate, combined with a big-spending Labor government.

Mr O'Brien's election will tip some of the power balance in the Victorian party back towards the old Costello faction and it comes as the party prepares to elect a new interim state president.

It will open the way for former presidential aspirant Greg Hannan to take a larger role in the party, as he and Mr O'Brien are considered close.

On climate change, he said: "A majority of scientists are telling us climate change is happening, a majority of scientists say humans are contributing to it, so let's not have an argument over whether it's happening or not.

"Let's have a debate, let's have a contest of good ideas about how we can best address it, that's what I think Victorians want." Deputy Premier James Merlino attacked Mr O'Brien's appointment. "It's been clear in recent days that most Liberal MPs prefer the former member for Hawthorn John Pesutto as leader," he said. "As the last man standing, Michael O'Brien is the Steven Bradbury of the Victorian Liberal Party." ADDITIONAL REPORTING: AAP


Caption Text:

STUART McEVOY New Victorian Liberal leadership team Georgie Crozier, left, Cindy McLeish, Michael O'Brien and David Davis


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