The Perfect Enemy | Daniel Andrews’s legacy could be immortalised in bronze, but there’s a tightening Victorian election to win first
December 3, 2022

Daniel Andrews’s legacy could be immortalised in bronze, but there’s a tightening Victorian election to win first

Daniel Andrews’s legacy could be immortalised in bronze, but there’s a tightening Victorian election to win first  ABC News

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At the top of Collins Street, outside the state government offices, sit four statues – Victorian premiers who served for more than 3,000 days.

If Daniel Andrews wins a third term on Saturday, he’ll get his own.

Bronze statues of Henry Bolte and Albert Dunstan mark their legacy as premiers.(ABC News: Scott Jewell)

And for most of his second term, it was broadly assumed a third would be his for the taking.

Over the past four decades, Labor appears to have established itself as the natural party of government in Victoria.

It has won eight of the past 11 elections.

The Victorian flag flies at a government building behind a bronze statue.
If Daniel Andrews wins the next election, he’ll be on track to join the line of bronze premiers on Spring Street.(ABC News: Scott Jewell)

At the last vote, Mr Andrews increased his majority — pitching Labor’s big infrastructure build against a law-and-order campaign from the Liberals.

In the aftermath of its bruising loss, the Liberal Party dropped Matthew Guy as leader and installed Michael O’Brien.

But through the rough pandemic years, where some MPs felt Mr O’Brien failed to land blows against the premier, the Liberals brought Mr Guy back less than three years later.

Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy, who is wearing a suit. The background behind him is blurry and green.
Matthew Guy is hoping pandemic-weary Victorians will vote for change on November 26.(AAP: James Ross)

In a press conference after his re-elevation to the leadership, Mr Guy said Victorians were “aching for the next election to be a contest”.

And a contest it certainly appears to be. Polls show Labor in front, but by a significantly narrower margin than it was just two months ago.

COVID-19 made Mr Andrews a national figure, and a powerful voice on the new National Cabinet. It earned him the adoration of many Victorians, or “Dan stans”, for his handling of the pandemic.

But it also made him probably the most reviled political leader in the country — the target of some of the largest and most violent protests in the state’s modern history.

Protesters march through the Melbourne CBD holding flags and signs
Anti-Andrews protests have continued throughout Victoria in the lead-up to the election.(ABC News: Joseph Dunstan)

“I think it was quite disquieting for a lot of Victorians to see that amount of polarisation, antagonism and hostility,” Monash University politics professor Paul Strangio said.

Victoria is a political paradox. It’s the most progressive state in the country — the one John Howard famously referred to as the “Massachusetts of Australia” – yet is also home to some of the most far right-wing organisations and individuals.

It hasn’t gone away. Angry Victorians Party MP Catherine Cumming told a rally on Saturday that she wanted to see the Premier turned into a “red mist” — comments she later said had been misunderstood. 

Mr Andrews has been their number one target. But the “anti-Dan” sentiment is much broader than that.

“I don’t think we’ve had a premier in Victoria who has been so dominant or larger than life since Jeff Kennett,” said Professor Strangio.  

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VIC 04 | A pox on both your houses

It was Mr Kennett who came up with the idea of the statues of long-serving premiers in 1998, just as he was heading toward what he — and a lot of other people — assumed would be his third term.

But he was famously blindsided by a backlash from country Victorians who felt neglected and angry.

After that election, three country independents held the balance of power in parliament and handed government to Labor’s Steve Bracks.

Jeff Kennett at CLP launch
Like Mr Andrews, Jeff Kennett was vying for a third term in government before his 1999 election upset.(ABC News: Felicity James)

This time, polling suggests it’s those in Melbourne’s outer growth suburbs, where lockdown was especially hard, who are angry.

“The federal election saw very large swings, particularly in the north and west of Melbourne in the outer suburbs, suggesting there is a residual resentment about lockdowns out there,” Professor Strangio said.

The government’s big infrastructure build has been slow to arrive on the city’s outer rim, struggling to keep up with demand for transport, hospitals, schools and even shopping centres.

Meanwhile, the Greens are eyeing off Labor’s inner-Melbourne seats, hoping to repeat their success from the federal election – and potentially help decide who holds power in Victoria for the next four years.

Dan Andrews waves, with his wife and three children beside him.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has enlisted support from his family on the campaign trail this month.(AAP: Luis Ascui)

“I think whoever forms government is going to face quite a significant budgetary challenge,” Grattan Institute CEO Danielle Wood said.

In four years’ time, Victoria’s debt will be bigger than New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania combined — $170 billion, almost a quarter of the state’s economic output.

“I think, the sheer enormity of those debt numbers is just starting to dawn on people,” Ms Wood said.

“I’m actually not convinced that the parties have calibrated their election commitments to that new environment.”

Meanwhile, the struggling hospital system is bracing for another COVID wave.

But it’s perhaps a sign of Victorians’ fatigue with the virus that has seen it barely feature in the campaign — even though thousands more people are dying per year than under lockdowns.

The parallels to Mr Kennett’s loss to Mr Bracks in 1999 only go so far. Mr Guy is a recycled leader, and his party has significant problems.

“It’s been very factionalised,” said Professor Strangio.

“There’s a lot of infighting in the party, below the surface. And the stories of Victorian Liberal Party infiltration by religious conservatives have been a problem.”

That surfaced yesterday, when Matthew Guy was forced to disown a lead upper-house candidate in Victoria’s east over links to a conservative church which endorses gay conversion therapy.

The Liberals should also have been able to hammer Mr Andrews and Labor, who have now been linked to five corruption inquiries. 

But both party leaders are facing anti-corruption investigations.

Joo-Cheong Tham smiles, as he stands in a sunlit corridor.
Law professor Joo-Cheong Tham says duelling scandals may cancel each other out in the public’s eye.(ABC News: Kristian Silva)

“For a governing party to be held to account, there needs to be an effective opposition. And I think the opposition has created its own problems on this front,” said Professor Joo-Cheong Tham, from the Melbourne Law School.

“I think there’s also perhaps a view that the ends justifies the means. So we’re doing these big things, big achievements, and public integrity seems to be optional, or an inconvenience.”

Political observers like Professor Strangio will be watching to see if Victoria follows the trend of shrinking support for the major parties.

“It’s a real litmus test, in some ways of how much strain the traditional party system is under in Australia,” he said.

“Whether the new norm is insurgency, and expanded crossbenches — and force the major parties to adapt to a new reality.”

A bronze statue of a man pointing with his finger.
Time will tell if Daniel Andrews will join Labor giant John Cain in the list of Victoria’s longest-serving premiers.(ABC News: Scott Jewell)

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