Victorian opposition leader loses third key staff member in eight days

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP</span>
Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

Victoria’s opposition leader, Matthew Guy, has lost three staff members in eight days, including his communications director, less than four months out from the state election.

Lee Anderson, who had held the position for 12 months, quit on Wednesday morning after what sources say was a disagreement with Guy’s new chief of staff, Nick McGowan.

Guy’s diary manager resigned just hours after Anderson on Wednesday. It is understood the position has already been filled.

McGowan was appointed on Monday afternoon, replacing Mitch Catlin who 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 private marketing company for services described as “supporting business interests”.

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

McGowan, who was best man at Guy’s wedding and his chief of staff when he was planning minister, will only serve in the position for three months before standing down to run for an upper house seat in the new north-eastern metropolitan region.

The Liberal MP Georgie Crozier denied there had been a disagreement between Anderson and McGowan.

“This is a decision made by Lee. It’s a personal decision, he’s returned home interstate,” Crozier told reporters on Wednesday. “I’m not privy to those reasonings.”

Anderson, a former executive producer at 7 News Melbourne, has family in Tasmania but had been commuting during his time in the role.

He will be replaced by Alex Woff, who already works in the opposition’s media team, while advisor Anja Wolff will be promoted to deputy director of communications.

Crozier denied the Liberals were losing decades of experience with Anderson’s departure.

“Lee has offered to still provide advice and I’m incredibly grateful for that,” she said. “We have got a young, hungry team who are doing an exceptional job, they have learnt so much from Lee.”

She maintained Guy would lead the party to the election on 26 November despite the upheaval in his office.

Several Liberal MPs said there were no plans to challenge Guy’s leadership but expressed concerns the latest departures were proving a distraction months out from the poll.

McGowan’s dual roles as candidate and chief of staff have been described by several as “messy” and “high-risk”, given Guy’s criticism of Labor’s red shirt scandal – in which parliamentary staff misused taxpayer funds by campaigning during work hours.

“It only takes one campaign-related email during work hours for us to be kicking another own-goal again,” one MP remarked. “We absolutely cannot afford that.”

Guy has said McGowan will not campaign for his personal election during his ordinary work hours.

Email: sign up for our daily morning briefing newsletter

App: download the free app and never miss the biggest stories, or get our weekend edition for a curated selection of the week's best stories

Social: follow us on YouTubeFacebookInstagramTwitter or TikTok

Podcast: listen to our daily episodes on Apple PodcastsSpotify or search "Full Story" in your favourite app

The opposition leader told reporters this week he would no longer answer questions about Catlin’s proposal.

He earlier denied it was an attempt circumvent the state’s strict donation laws, which require donations above $1,050 to be disclosed and 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.

The minister for government services, Danny Pearson, issued a media release on Wednesday morning, detailing “at least 54 times” in which Guy has refused to answer questions on the issue.

“There’s less than 100 days until Victorians begin casting votes, and Victorians have a right to know the true extent of Matthew Guy’s involvement,” Pearson said.

Guardian Australia has attempted to contact Anderson and McGowan.