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Dreams of an Underdog – Matthew Guy’s Victoria will be a State of Cities

Everything we do is Melbourne, Melbourne & Melbourne; I want to do things differently: Matthew Guy said of his plans for future Victoria, speaking exclusively to Dinesh Malhotra.

It’s holiday time and peak season for politicians to reveal their ‘human avatars’ – the real family people, sometimes even taking a break from their ‘well earned’ holidays to answer calls for ‘nation building’ should the need arise. Empirically, it is all fine and noble! Why are politicians then, held in such a low regard?

“Politics is the last resort for the scoundrels”, said George Bernard Shaw.

Charlie Chaplin went a step further to clarify what he thought of them saying:

“I remain just one thing, and one thing only, and that is a clown. It places me on a far higher plane than any politician”.

Despite there being so much open ridicule for a career in politics, there is guaranteed glamour associated with it – bringing in many young, bright student leaders with conviction for a career in politics.

And contradicting Shaw’s theory, they make it their first and not the last career choice. A favorite state politician for many in the Indian community, Matthew Guy, Victoria’s Opposition leader belongs to this kind.

Member of the Liberal party since 1990 when he was only 16, he has always ‘lived and breathed politics’ except for brief periods when he worked for VFF and ASIC.

He was chief of staff to Denis Napthine (1999-2002) and also contested election for the seat of Yan Yean which he lost, but later returned to Parliament as MLC for the Northern Metropolitan seat in 2006 and re-elected in 2010.

Since November 2014, he has been MLA for the seat of Bulleen, a seat vacated by former minister, Nicholas Kotsiras.

Matthew Guy was always interested in politics.

“Ever since I was a boy I have loved state politics and had a deep desire to participate in it as a state parliamentarian”, he had said in his maiden speech back in 2006.

Such was his conviction for politics that he feels state politics is by far the most representative level of government.

“At the state political level you do not just talk about facilitating a project or planning a project, you can do the lot — plan it, build it, open it and run it. State politics is about the full governance of communities,” Mr Guy said, speaking exclusively to Bharat Times.

And as planning minister, he put in his practical best – giving approval to many a projects from high-rise to Ventnor (in Philip Island) culminating in the signing of EAST WEST LINK project contracts.

Having lost 2014-election and then claiming the leadership of the parliamentary Liberal party, Matthew Guy admits he will be the underdog in November 2018 election, but dreams – dreams of leaving his lasting political legacy on Victoria.

Under Matthew Guy, the state of Victoria will seemingly witness an approach akin to the values he holds and things he believes in.

“As a party leader, I would be my own person… my personality is very different. Denis’s background was from country, Ted’s was from a very long standing Melbourne family, my background is totally different…

“I suspect my approach would be reflective of my background… Every premier’s personality is reflected in their government; I think each government is very much a reflection of that person.

In September this year, opinion polls put Matthew Guy ahead of Daniel Andrews as the preferred Premier. It must have been a great exhilarating feeling for him.

“One poll does not change things… I will go to the next election as the underdog. The premier, who has 47 seats, I have 38, will be the favourite…”

But he is absolutely hopeful.

“Absolutely, no doubt about – but I have a lot of work to do… It is a long long road to go…– you can be a rooster one day and a feather duster the next”.

He is preparing himself and his team well in time for November 2018 election. Pre-selections for safe (say prized) Liberal seats have already been opened and will be finalized by 9 December 2016; this will give the leader a two year long peep into his potential team and the electorates into their representative post 2018.

Plus, work, he says is progressing in the policy development area and soon Victorians will be getting a glimpse of the Coalition’s core agenda for the next election.

Boldly digressing from conventional politics, Matthew Guy is undaunted to take on policies with very slow and long gestational periods to yield.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, he is not just about the short political cyclical warfare.

“I don’t see any government with plans beyond 2-3 years… I want to do something considerably different – and that is focussing on regionalising, decentralizing our population – and that will be hard – because you do not see results in an early sense – it will take some time – but it will be the right focus for our state in the longer term”.

He is focused on population policy, on decentralization, regionalization.

“Melbourne to me is becoming unsustainably big… everything we are doing is Melbourne, Melbourne Melbourne… I think Victoria is becoming a city state.

“I want to be a Premier that builds a state of cities not just a city state…

He says the reality of Victoria being a state of cities may be as far away as 2050, but peri-areas will develop much faster.

“Drouin (population 9686 – 2011 census) will grow very quickly and its population will grow by 10,000 in the next five years… Wangaratta might take a lot longer… So certain areas will grow much faster… the way we run our state – it will be 2050….

Confirming about the modeling for such a ‘bold’ plan for the state, Mr Guy said that the first stage of Colaition’s population policy would be released soon – “literally in the next few weeks”.

And yes there will have to be incentives to get jobs out of Melbourne, to get people out of Melbourne.

Although, as planning minister he has dealt with and in some cases perhaps ‘infamously’ with ‘high-rise’ buildings and towers, he is committed to our ‘suburban’ way of life. He forcefully supports his decisions and clarifies his vision:

(As planning minister) “I do not approve of anything outside the central activity area of Melbourne.

“What I focussed on and what I would do again is build up those specific areas – Doncaster activities area, Box Hill activities area, Frankston activities area – central activities areas in Melbourne and then you provide the planning protection to keep that way of life…

“Preserve those areas outside your activities areas and you should not be able to build there”.

However, he does not regret the now-defunct EAST WEST LINK and $1.2 billion approx. (20% of the total cost of the first stage) compensation payout to not have the road, maintaining complete conviction for the decision.

If you could wind the clock back 4 years, would you do the EWL again?

“Yes, why would I not?”

I quoted him an excerpt from his First Speech to the Victorian Parliament (in 2006):

“Every politician must remember that government money is indeed taxpayers’ money and this money does not grow on a magic cash tree… To treat taxpayers’ money with frivolous disregard is to treat Victorians with contempt”.  

With Victoria having to pay $1.2 billion on EAST WEST LINK scrapping alone, why would Napthine government not wait to sign contracts until after the 2014 election?

Mr Guy took his very politician like oft-repeated stance of ‘being there to govern for full term and not any less’.

But in his human avatar, unlike many other politicians, Mr Guy is religious – loud and proud Christian, a very real person.

Having interviewed many politicians in the last twenty years, Mr Guy is the first politician whose grandmother was the most important person in his life and his proudest moment was becoming father – when his first son was born.

There was an unmistakable sense of pride and a certain glow in his eyes as he reminisced.

Titbits with Matthew Guy
Questions: Matthew Guy’s answers:
Multiculturalism – integration or assimilation? Integration
Name Indian group/ Assoc. (Not FIAV) FIMO
Your first interaction with Indians My neighbours in 1979
Favourite Politician Australian Billy Hughes
Name an Indian politician (other than Narendra Modi) Rajiv Gandhi
Favourite Book I read a lot of books, … Matters for Judgement
Favourite Quote Don’t have one.
Favourite Food/cuisine Butter Chicken (certainly not contrived)
A dish you can cook I am a very good cook. I can cook a good Russian Fish pie.
Favourite pastime Weeding
Favourite Hollywood star female Natalie Wood
Favourite Hollywood star male Clint Eastwood
Favourite Hollywood movie The Party
Favourite Bollywood star female/Male Don’t know any
Favourite Bollywood movie Don’t know any
Sport(s) you are good at Cycling
Favourite cricketer Australian Allan Border
Favourite cricketer Indian Sunil Gavaskar
Most important person in your life My Grandmother
Your advice to Donald Trump Don’t be a phoney
Your advice to Hillary Clinton Be honest
Your biggest regret in life (so far) Not having enough time with my grandparents
Your proudest moment (so far) Birth of my son (becoming father)
Career choice other than politics Greenkeeper
If you get one wish, what would that be To be healthy
Do you do your own shopping? Yes
What is the price of:  
·         1 Litre of milk Depends on the milk you buy $2.50 or $2.40
·         1 kg of Potatoes Bought a bag for $6
·         1 kg of Bananas My wife does the fruit, not sure.
·         A Can of soft drink Don’t drink it
·         A cup of coffee $6 in Melbourne nowadays– it’s crazy.
·         A sandwich As high as $10, paid $6 in Morewell
·         A loaf of bread White Hi-fibe, Low GI and paid $4.50 at Bakers Delight

His Ukrainian Australian descent makes him ‘migrant-like’ a non-elitist, one who does his own shopping “except for fruits which my wife does”.

“Coming from a family that has not been generationally Australian, Matthew understands first hand, the plight immigrants face, their values and their aspirations…” Vasan Srinivasan, Chair – Confederation of Indian Australian Associations Inc and Liberal party member said.

Mr Guy is equally abreast of how expensive Melbourne’s “cup of coffee and sandwich have become”.

That makes him – one of us – a normal family man and that is a real vote winner, unlike many of his colleagues. Matthew Guy, thus, is there for the long haul!

Matthew Guy believes that Victoria should be a State of cities
Matthew Guy believes Victoria should be a state of cities

And that is good news for Liberal party aspirants in the Indian community in Victoria – because he thinks Indian community is “strong, growing proud. Becoming more active and vocal and I think that’s good.”

Mr Guy has been a patron of the Federation of Indian Associations of Victoria (FIAV) since 2012, and during his term as Planning and Multicultural Minister, he supported many Indian religious institutions in Victoria, including Shri Siva Vishnu Temple with $1,000,000 fund, Keysborough Gurudwara received $400,000, while Hare Krishna Temple received $500,000.

It was also during his tenure when Museum India of Victoria was established.

But on winning a preselection, his message is clear – there are no shortcuts or favouritism. Anyone interested should join the party and be involved in the process. And perhaps then make their way up.

“We do not preselect people based on gender, race religion… We preselect people based on merit. We will not judge people by their background”, he insists.

And personally for Matthew Guy to realise his dreams of regionalization, decentralization and creating a state of cities – as he says he and his team are working hard to come up with alternative policy agenda to put forward at the next election.

Daniel Andrews on the other hand will be answering his handling of the CFA dispute, his programs like ‘Safe Schools’ and proposed Skyrail.

On Skyrail, it’ll be interesting to find out if some beneficiaries of EAST WEST Link scrapping are also potential bidders for Daniel Andrews proposed Skyrail.

(Dinesh Malhotra is the founding editor of Bharat Times. He is also a qualified lawyer admitted to practice)

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