Victorian Liberal leader Matthew Guy appoints close friend as new chief of staff

<span>Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP</span>
Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

Victoria’s opposition leader, Matthew Guy, has hired close friend Nick McGowan to replace Mitch Catlin as his chief of staff.

Catlin resigned last week after the Age reported he had proposed to ask a Liberal party donor to make more than $100,000 in payments to his marketing company, Catchy Media Marketing and Management, for services described as “supporting business interests”.

McGowan, who was best man at Guy’s wedding and his chief of staff when he was planning minister, has been a candidate for the Liberals on several occasions and was recently preselected for a winnable second spot on the party’s upper house ticket for the new north-eastern metropolitan region.

Guy confirmed that McGowan would not campaign for his personal election during his ordinary work hours and will take leave once he lodges his nomination with the Victorian Electoral Commission.

According to the commission’s website, this must occur before 10 November.

Related: From celebrity wrangler to political staffer: how Mitch Catlin’s career change came unstuck

“Across more than three decades of involvement in Liberal politics, Nick has distinguished himself with his strong work ethic, determination and enthusiasm,” Guy said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Nick’s core beliefs are Liberal ones. He believes in equality, individual responsibility and reward for effort.

“I am proud to call Nick a colleague and friend and look forward to working together to deliver real solutions for all Victorians.”

McGowan has previously worked as media director to former opposition leader Ted Baillieu and at the Red Cross blood service.

He has served on the administrative appeals tribunal – the body responsible for appeals against government decisions – sine July 2015.

Several Liberal MPs have already expressed concern about McGowan’s appointment as chief of staff .

“No one is saying he hasn’t got all the necessary experience to do the job but when you’ve been preselected as a candidate, it makes things a bit icky,” one MP, who did not want to be named, told Guardian Australia.

“It effectively means he won’t be able to help the lower house candidates in the region he has been preselected to represent in the months before the election, and on the other hand, it will leave Guy without a chief of staff at the height of the campaign.

“I’m not sure about the logic behind it, perhaps everyone else said no.”

Another MP said other candidates considered for the position had declined.

“It wasn’t Matthew’s first choice but Nick’s a good guy, he’s a decent appointment,” they said.

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Guy said McGowan’s first task would be to develop a code of conduct for opposition staff in Victoria.

Last week, Guy denied the contract proposed by Catlin was an attempt to circumvent that state’s strict donation laws, which require donations above $1,050 to be disclosed and are limited to $4,210 over four years.

Guy has suggested the proposed payments were considered as part of Catlin’s employment as his chief of staff, telling reporters last Tuesday: “Of course that was part of the discussion.”

“But the point is that was not considered transparent enough … and nothing was ever [acted] on,” he said.

After announcing a commitment to provide $10m to establish a new Australian Chinese community education and cultural centre in Melbourne’s east if the Liberals win government, Guy on Monday refused to answer questions about the scandal.

“I’m not answering that. That’s last week,” he said.