An embarrassing face-off has occurred within Victorian Liberal ranks after the body formed by new Premier Ted Baillieu to vet potential ministerial staffers has decreed that Michael Oâ€™Brienâ€™s choice for his chief of staff, federal deputy director Julian Sheezel, not an appropriate person for the position.
The news â€“ exclusively reported here by the famed VEXNEWS Investigations Unit â€“ highlights the role of the powerful group comprising state party director Tony Nutt, Baillieu COS Michael Kapel and the Nats Leader Peter Ryanâ€™s chief of staff. The affectionate name for this group in government circles is: â€œthe Star Chamberâ€. While an unpleasant name, this group plays an important role in saving ministers from themselves Liberals say, apparently even ordering Police checks on some applicants “just in case”.
This group has been very slow to approve ministerâ€™s proposed staff selections, according to Liberal sources, so much so that some worry the government could lose momentum going into the first parliamentary sitting in February.
Sources are at this stage uncertain about whether the ambitious Minister Oâ€™Brien will stand his ground and insist that Sheezel be hired.
Sheezelâ€™s many critics tell VEXNEWS that this situation highlights what they say is the folly of federal director Brian Loughnane replacing the former deputy federal director James McGrath with â€œa bloke who canâ€™t even get hired as one of 21 Victorian Government chiefs of staff.â€
They say that McGrath excelled at the last federal election, helping deliver strong local campaigns to capitalise on the rising tide of anti-Rudd sentiment in Queensland that nearly unseated Labor.
The maneuvers around Sheezel â€“ a former Victorian party director â€“ comes at a time when relations within the â€œKroger-Costelloâ€ group appear somewhat strained. Insiders say that Mitch Fifeld is upping the ante in his hostile moves against faction bosses Michael Ronaldson and Michael Kroger, even plotting and scheming to â€œnailâ€ Senator Helen Kroger at the next round of Senate preselections. Fifeld is even believed to have made approaches to the Ted Baillieu faction about the possibilities, it is said.
However, the Baillieu faction, freshly revived from its â€œBuriedâ€ film-style coffin-dwelling, have long memories and have not forgotten or forgiven Fifeldâ€™s bloody preselection battle in Brighton against senior Minister and deputy Victorian Liberal leader Louise Asher.
There are interesting days ahead for the unexpectedly successful Victorian division of the Liberal party. Their problems â€“ sharing the rich bounty of success â€“ can be reasonably designated in the â€œnice-to-haveâ€ category but theyâ€™ll be keen not to be seen as a do-nothing government that merely â€œconsiders suspendingâ€ past unpopular Brumby schemes but ultimately lets departments continue on auto-pilot as if nothing had changed.
While they’ve moved slowly on staff appointments, a few senior ones have started to come through with the Fin’s well-connected Mat Dunkley reporting yesterday on the appointment of Baillieu faction man Peter Poggioli as Louise Asher’s cos and Michael Brennan, a highly regarded former Rod Kemp staffer, has got the nod as COS to Kim Wells after an earlier favoured candidate also ran into the wrath of Star Chamber.
The government is reportedly intent on filling its ranks with more “grey hair” in contrast with the funky yoofs of the now fallen Team Brumby.