Former prime minister Tony Abbott is urging the Liberal faithful to stick with Victorian party leader Matthew Guy after a fresh bout of poor polling.
Mr Abbott flew into Melbourne for a Liberal Party fundraiser at Preston in the city’s north on Saturday night, ahead of the state election in November.
The Victorian coalition continues to trail Labor in the polls, with a Newspoll published in The Australian pointing to a third term for the Andrews government.
Dissatisfaction with Mr Guy’s performance has jumped seven points since November, two months after he toppled Michael O’Brien in a leadership challenge.
But Mr Abbott has backed the Victorian Liberal leader to turn the tables, citing the 2010 federal election when he led the coalition to 72 lower house seats and forced Labor into minority government.
“No one thought we had a chance in 2010 and we did extremely well against a first term government because we had a strong sense of what we stood for,” he told Sky News.
“A Liberal Party that stands for things, that fights for things, always has the hope of victory, the scent of victory in its nostrils.”
Integrity is a key issue among voters in the November 26 state election, as both major parties head to the polls with questions over their heads.
Mr Abbott described the Andrews government as ethically challenged but wouldn’t be drawn on the state Liberals’ donor scandal involving Mr Guy’s former chief of staff Mitch Catlin.
Victorian Liberal MPs are facing independent challenges in traditional heartland seats such as Kew, Sandringham and Hawthorn after several of their federal colleagues were ousted by a “teal” wave at May’s federal election.
Needing 18 seats to reclaim government outright, Mr Abbott said voters should understand that casting their ballot for teal independents will keep Labor in power.
“The Andrews government is probably one of the worst governments Australia has ever had,” he said.
“If you want to keep the Andrews government, vote teal. If you want to change the Andrews government vote Liberal. Simple as that.”
Premier Daniel Andrews welcomed the former prime minister to Melbourne before providing his own take on the Abbott government’s record.
“I remember (him saying) ‘no cuts to health’ … and what happened the budget after, the very first budget thereafter? Savage cutbacks to hospitals, savage cutbacks to education,” he told reporters.
“That’s the way they (the Liberals) operate. That’s not what we do.”
Mr Guy was unable to attend the fundraiser but addressed rank-and-file members, as well as former treasurer John Frydenberg and former federal Liberal MP Tim Wilson, at the Victorian Liberal State Council on Sunday.
Outspoken Victorian MP Tim Smith was a no-show after claiming he immediately offered to resign from politics but was told to stay on by Mr Guy following his drink-driving crash last year.
The outgoing Kew MP told the Herald Sun he learned he was sacked in a live press conference on Melbourne Cup day but Mr Guy refused to confirm his version of events.
“I’m very sad I lost a friendship out of that. The last thing I want to do is turn up on television and start pitting me and him,” Mr Guy said.