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Opinion / Politics Josh Frydenberg’s next job — premier of Victoria?

After a hammering by independent Kooyong candidate Monique Ryan, could the treasurer be quietly preparing to 'do a Campbell Newman'?

writes in Crikey.

After watching yesterday’s impressive performance by Dr Monique Ryan during her one-hour debate with Josh Frydenberg on Sky News, the penny started to drop. The former director of neurology at Victoria’s Royal Children’s Hospital is a gun candidate who really could topple the treasurer and deputy Liberal leader.

Even some of the News Corp types in the old Hawthorn Town Hall were quietly admitting after the combatants departed that Dr Ryan won the unprecedented Kooyong candidates debate, despite the treasurer’s 12 years of parliamentary debating experience and enormous staffing and party resources to prepare and research.

Given that an overall swing against the Liberals appears on and Frydenberg only defeated Greens candidate Julian Burnside with 55.7% of the two candidate preferred vote in 2019, the prospect of defeat is rising by the day.

Alan Kohler, a long-time resident of Kooyong who knows both Frydenberg and Ryan, predicted yesterday that he is in trouble.

“I’d say he’s more than worried… I think Monique Ryan is a big chance, to be honest,” Kohler told his Money Café podcast. “The Josh Frydenberg panic is a clear indication of that.”

Indeed Sportsbet, the largest online bookmaker in the Australian market, is now only paying $1.70 on a Frydenberg victory against $2.05 for Ryan.

Plan B or C

So, what will Frydenberg do if he loses? Unlike Tim Wilson in Goldstein, the treasurer’s political career is clearly worth saving. But how would he get back in the federal Parliament if Kooyong fell? Melbourne’s outer east is safer Liberal territory than the progressive leafy inner city, so someone like Alan Tudge in Aston or Michael Sukkar in Deakin could resign from Parliament to cause a byelection with a view to facilitating Josh’s return to the fray as opposition leader.

If that doesn’t fly, however, an arguably better alternative awaits later in the year.

It’s called the “Campbell Newman option”. If thrown out of the federal Parliament, Victorian Liberals could elect Josh Frydenberg to be their leader from outside the Parliament with a view to toppling Dan Andrews and becoming Victorian premier after the November state election. Newman did precisely that in April 2012, resigning as Brisbane Lord Mayor to become opposition leader from outside the Parliament and then securing a landslide victory against Anna Bligh to become Queensland premier 11 months later in March 2013.

As things stand, perhaps the only thing that could save Frydenberg in Kooyong now would be an electorate-wide letter attacking Peter Dutton with the message: “A vote for Monique Ryan is a vote for Peter Dutton to be the next Liberal leader.”

But imploring Kooyong voters not to decapitate the next Liberal leader in order to avoid nasty Peter Dutton taking the Liberals further right is not something that Josh or anyone in the Liberal Party can openly say.

Monique Ryan was absolutely right yesterday when she pointed out Frydenberg is no traditional Liberal moderate. He’s officially a member of Scott Morrison’s centre-right faction and has not once crossed the floor on any matter during his 12 years in Parliament, instead preferring always to vote with Barnaby Joyce.

Ryan was clearly well prepared for the debate. Rather than dodging economic debate, she repeatedly returned to it, tackling the waste and mismanagement of JobKeeper, whereby $38 billion of the $88 billion went to companies that didn’t quality under the rules of the secretive program and recipients weren’t named on a public register, as they were in many other countries.

And when Frydenberg fired up with his usual claims of JobKeeper saving 700,000 jobs, Ryan pointed out that even Gina Rinehart’s old school in Perth, St Hilda’s, claimed $4.8 million when there was hardly any COVID-19 in Perth, let alone home schooling. Instead, that money could have been better spent supporting Victorian public hospitals like the Royal Children’s, where the doctor herself worked under great duress during the pandemic.

The Frydenberg strategy was clearly to try and show Ryan up as a political novice on national television, but she was up to the task across a wide range of topics in what The Age described today as an “absorbing” one-hour battle. With no less than four reporters and columnists at the Hawthorn Town Hall yesterday, The Age clearly senses history is going to be made on May 21.

Instead of a political decapitation, Frydenberg ended up emboldening Ryan and giving her a national platform on which to shine, while the Labor and Green candidates were nowhere to be seen.

Ryan’s first tweet after the debate was to list the treasurer’s many failures in economic management:

Ryan Tweet

Ouch.

With inflation and interest rates rising, record debt and deficits, a prime minister who refuses to progress a national integrity body and National Party lead in the saddle bag, the only question remaining is whether an over-the-top $3 million campaign is enough to save Frydenberg.

From what we saw yesterday, he might soon become the first seriously touted major party future prime minister to be voted out of Parliament before ever contesting a leadership ballot.

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