South-west Victorian MP Denis Napthine is the state's new Premier, following the sudden resignation of Ted Baillieu last night after weeks of pressure.
The member for South West Coast moved into the top job on his 61st birthday, phoning The Warrnambool Standard shortly after the announcement to say he was humbled and honoured.
‘‘I am extremely proud,’’ he said. ‘‘It has been many, many years since someone from south-west Victoria has been the Premier.’’
The last local to make it to the number one spot in Spring Street was John Murray a century ago.
Dr Napthine paid tribute to Mr Baillieu who he said had been a great leader. ‘‘Ted Baillieu is a great Victorian who deserves a great deal of credit for the work he has done as leader of the Liberals,’’ he said.
Dr Napthine inherits a government facing huge challenges, but he said that he was prepared for them. ‘‘I am committed to making Victoria a better place,’’ he said.
Mr Baillieu’s surprise resignation came after Liberal MP Geoff Shaw resigned from the party, threatening the Coalition’s slender grip on power.
Mr Baillieu said a leadership change was in the government’s best interests.
“I love this state, I love the Liberal Party and I love this role that I have had the honour to enjoy over the last two-and-a-bit years,” he said.
“It is apparent to me that a change of leadership is in the best interests of the government.”
He did not explain why he was quitting and would not take any questions from reporters at a media conference following a crisis meeting of Liberal MPs at 7pm.
Dr Napthine also refused to explain why Mr Baillieu stood down.
“The explanation is that Mr Baillieu made a decision to step down as leader of the Liberal Party,” he said.
“Mr Baillieu made his own decision to stand down. I will lead the party to the next election.”
Mr Baillieu, who will remain in Parliament, said Dr Napthine had his full support.
Both heaped praise on each other.
“Ted has put his heart and soul into the Victorian Liberal Party … for the best part of three decades,” Dr Napthine said. “He is not just a colleague, he is a great friend.”
Dr Napthine said he had been proud to serve in the Baillieu government, which came to power at the state election in 2010.
“I look forward to providing strong, stable and positive government for the people of Victoria,” he said.
Dr Napthine led the Coalition in opposition from October 1999 to August 2002.
He said Peter Ryan, the leader of the National Party, would remain as deputy premier and Louise Asher would continue as the Liberals’ deputy leader. Mr Shaw’s resignation from the Liberals leaves the Coalition with only half the seats on the floor of the lower house, and relying on the vote of Mr Shaw — accused of misconduct in public office — to remain in power.
Mr Shaw said he had lost confidence in the Coalition government leadership.
He did not say whether he would support the government on matters of supply.
Voter satisfaction with Mr Baillieu had fallen to a record-equalling low and Labor retains an election-winning lead in the latest Newspoll.