Grifters all the way down

The kindest thing that could be said about Matthew Guy is that he looks like a cartoon shrimp. It is not just the spinelessness and the bottom feeding: there is also the perpetual sense of him being pulled up in a net.

Nothing better articulates the poverty of the Victorian Liberal Party than the fact he leads it. He represents a kind of politics that leaves oil stains on seats, a venal, oleaginous, insincere approach to the demands of office, a politics of self-interest that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing and tries to bill the former through a private marketing business.

Payments allegedly sought by his chief of staff have now been referred to the state’s anti-corruption monitor, the ombudsman, the electoral commission and state and federal police. Guy argues that the deal didn’t succeed, so nothing is wrong. The shamelessness is staggering. “Nothing was signed, nothing was agreed, nothing proceeded and nothing followed through,” he claims. “That says everything.”

This is the same Matthew Guy who was embroiled in a donations scandal after meeting with an alleged crime boss at a suburban seafood restaurant, his “lobster with a mobster”. He campaigned the next year with a “tough on crime” platform. And then they made him leader again.

Guy is running against a Labor government that is ruled by factionalism, that has routinely misused public funds, that has been found responsible for a “catalogue of unethical and inappropriate behaviour” by the same bodies to which he has now been referred – and still he is worse.

It’s grifters all the way down. It’s one slimy-backed opportunist stacked on top of another, over and over again, into infinity. This week, in New South Wales, the Trade minister was forced to resign for his part in securing John Barilaro a sinecure in New York. He stayed on long enough to make clear that he thought he could get away with it.

“Last night, I read a section of the independent review being conducted by Graeme Head. This section is relevant to my role as minister,” he said. “In my view, no such breach has occurred. However, I agree it is important that this matter is investigated appropriately and support the premier’s decision to do so.”

No wonder faith in politics is at historic lows. No wonder support for the major parties is failing. The parliaments of the country have become troughs of grunting opportunism. The ugliness and the pettiness are extraordinary.

The changes needed are obvious and beginning. The federal integrity commission will make an enormous difference. So will the growing vote for independent candidates.

But the parties themselves need to begin reform. It is not enough for Daniel Andrews to apologise or for Dominic Perrottet to say he is following process: there is an urgent need to rid politics of the creatures for whom they’re apologising, the people there in pursuit of nothing but power and gratuity. For too long these creatures have been allowed to dominate the system and, in that time, they have done untold damage to it, damage that must now be earnestly and sincerely repaired.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 6, 2022 as "Grifters all the way down".

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