Guy vows to promote women in Liberal ranks

New state Opposition Leader Matthew Guy says he will tell the Liberal Party to introduce quotas and other mechanisms to diversify if it fails to get more women into winnable seats before the 2022 election.

Mr Guy, who toppled former leader Michael O’Brien on Tuesday to complete his comeback from leading the Coalition to a crushing election defeat in 2018, said he wouldn’t tap his colleagues on the shoulder to retire, but would insist the party adopt a new approach.

“When people do retire, I will be telling the party, not asking the party, to diversify,” he said on Friday.

State Opposition Leader Matthew Guy supports diversity among Liberal Party candidates. Credit:Wayne Taylor

In his first interview with The Age since his return to the leadership, Mr Guy also rejected the characterisation that his last campaign led to division in the community by highlighting African gang crime, instead blaming Labor and his federal colleagues for the fuelling the issue.

He said he “never talked about African gangs” during the campaign.

Mr Guy, who will lead a team of 31 Liberal MPs — including just seven women — to the next election, believes the Liberal Party may need to rethink its long-held resistance to quotas to boost the number of women in Parliament.

“I am being dragged towards that [quotas],” he said. “I still think we have a chance to change a few things in the current preselections or we will need to look at other mechanisms.

“We do not have enough women in State or Federal Parliament. I don’t make any excuses for that. It is something the Liberal Party in Victoria needs to address.”

Mr Guy will face his first test to promote more women when he reveals his new shadow cabinet on Sunday as he seeks to repair his damaged reputation following the party’s humiliating state election defeat in 2018, which saw it lose 10 of its 37 seats in the lower house.

An internal review of the Liberal Party’s campaign led by Liberal elder statesman Tony Nutt highlighted the need for more women in the party and blasted the Coalition for its obsessive focus on law and order, particularly the so-called “African youth gangs” issue, which was described as a “distraction for some key voters who saw it as a political tactic rather than an authentic problem to be solved”.

Credit:Matt Golding

Appearing to leverage its campaign off the spate of crimes in Melbourne allegedly involving Australians of African heritage, the Liberal Party rolled out a series of law-and-order policies and promised to “jail the gangs”, prompting accusations from human rights activists of “racist dog-whistling”.

The election post-mortem found just 6 per cent of voters said the law-and-order policies actually changed their vote – and not always in the Liberals’ favour.

Mr Guy told The Age he winced when he was accused of politicising gang crime, accusing Labor and the federal government of focusing on the issue. Ahead of the election, then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said the federal government was concerned about “growing gang violence and lawlessness” in Melbourne. Victorian frontbencher Greg Hunt described the African gang crime in some areas as “out of control”.

Defence Minister Peter Dutton also described the issue as a “major law-and-order problem” and claimed Victorians were “scared to go out to restaurants”.

“I never talked about African gangs,” Mr Guy said. “I made it very clear that the law should apply equally, irrespective of where people come from and how long they have been here.

"I think that is a perception that the victor gets to write the story, and it is false. There is no use going back to correct it."

Mr Guy, whose Ukrainian grandparents fled the Soviet Union after World War II, claims to know “more about multicultural affairs than most people sitting in that Parliament”.

“Most people on the Labor Party’s frontbench think multicultural affairs is watching SBS,” he said. “I am from a multicultural background. I know the struggles they face, I know how important it is to get messages to them in a culturally sensitive way rather than just running an ad in their language.”

Naturally feisty, Mr Guy said his 2018 election loss gave him a rare chance to reflect, and he believed it was time for “a dose of positivity”.

“One thing that was difficult for me in the last term was to be that dose of positivity because you had a new government implementing a new agenda and people were interested to see where that was going," he said.

“The key thing that people want to see from a politician is authenticity … not that I don’t believe what I was saying last time, but they want to see the real you.”

With just 15 months until polling day, Mr Guy doesn’t have time on his side as he tries to distance himself from his controversial past as planning minister, infamous “lobster with a mobster” scandal sparked by a dinner with an alleged mafia boss, and the negative 2018 campaign.

With support for the Morrison government declining, Mr Guy will also have to contend with a federal election in the first half of next year which will act as a crucial guide ahead of the November state election.

Acknowledging that improved relations with federal colleagues “would have helped” his campaign in 2018, Mr Guy insists he will not be beholden to the federal government.

“Australia is not a homogenous constituency any more,” he said. “Victoria does have a different personality. It’s not new that Victoria is more socially liberal than Queensland or Western Australia or, nowadays, NSW.

“I think it’s a charming thing about our state, it’s who we are. I am a Victorian first; my party is second.”

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