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Victorian Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien says he is very confident he'll remain in the role despite recent negative polling, saying his critical approach gives a voice to Victorians who have been punished by the state's second wave of coronavirus.
Greens leader Samantha Ratnam and Reason Party MP Fiona Patten said Victorians' scepticism of Mr O'Brien was a sign that divisive politics were the wrong approach during the pandemic.
Michael O’Brien said he had got his approach as opposition leader right in recent months.Credit:Jason South
Speaking outside Parliament on Tuesaday, a day after an Ipsos poll commissioned by The Age and Nine News found only 15 per cent of Victorians surveyed approved of Mr O’Brien’s performance during the pandemic, the Opposition Leader insisted he had not been too negative as Victoria battled through almost four months of lockdown.
Mr O'Brien, who said he was "very" confident he would still be Opposition Leader at the 2022 election, said it was his job to prosecute the Andrews government for its failures on hotel quarantine that allowed security guards and staff to spark Victoria's second wave by spreading COVID-19 into the community.
"Do you really think that this government should be allowed off the hook for what they did with hotel quarantine? Does any Victorian really think this government shouldn't be condemned for the problems in contact tracing that have kept us in lockdown for 111 days?" Mr O'Brien said.
"The job of an opposition is to call out where the government gets it wrong and demand action to fix it. That's what I've been doing, that's what every member of my team has been doing. Some people might not like it, but we've got a job to do."
While NSW Opposition Leader Jodi McKay's approval rating was just 19 per cent in a similar Sydney Morning Herald and Nine News poll, Mr O'Brien's approval rating among the Victorian Coalition supporters surveyed was 27 per cent. Premier Daniel Andrews had an approval rating of 52 per cent among the 858 Victorians surveyed.
Mr O'Brien, when asked if that showed his Liberal Party had taken the wrong approach, considering the Andrews government was overseeing hotel quarantine, disagreed and said he had got the "light and shade" of being in opposition correct.
"I make absolutely no apology for standing up for Victorians who've been hurt by this lockdown, who've been hurt by Labor's second wave … I think for those 798 Victorians who lost their lives, there must be accountability for that," he said.
"Anybody who wants to give Daniel Andrews a pat on the back for causing the second wave and then helping to put it out, I mean, you may as well praise an arsonist for putting out a fire that they started."
Opposition health spokeswoman and senior Liberal MP Georgie Crozier.Credit:Justin McManus
Opposition health spokeswoman and senior Liberal MP Georgie Crozier said she had full confidence in Mr O'Brien, who was elected unopposed after the Liberals' crushing 2018 election defeat.
She said the party had no regrets over planting 791 Australian flags in the ground at a press conference to mark every death of Victoria's second wave this month, instead pointing to former health minister Jenny Mikakos’ refusal to answer questions in Parliament in August.
"What about those stunts … and disgraceful displays of contempt?" she said.
Ms Ratnam, the Victorian Greens leader, criticised the opposition for "whipping up division and hysteria" around controversial bills such as the extension of Victoria’s state of emergency and its recent omnibus bill that proposed to give authorised officers a range of overarching powers. In both cases the government was forced to backtrack on its initial proposals.
"If public sentiment is saying that they don't like a divisive type of politics, a politics based on misinformation and hysteria, well that's what we are seeing in the community as well," Ms Ratnam said.
"People want hope, they need support in this recovery. They don't need whipping up of division and hatred and fear."
Ms Patten, who along with Ms Ratnam helped the State of Emergency Bill pass Parliament last month, said she had felt "smashed" by the opposition's negativity on the bill and suspected Victorians felt the same.
"What Victoria wanted to see was people coming together. Victoria wanted to see a bipartisanship, they did not want to see people playing politics with COVID … I think the opposition made the wrong move that way," she said.
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