THERE’S ALWAYS BEEN something a little guarded, a touch mysterious even, about the not so dearly departing Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews—or Dictator Dan as his jeer squad on Sky News like to catcall him.
It was in the furtive glances, the looking up from under pendulous eyebrows at an inquisitor before an answer; the North Face jacket turning a suit into a suitor for public trust.
As a state leader he bestrode the national stage in a way unprecedented since that other serial media antagonist, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, largely thanks to suffering the Chinese curse… of living in interesting times.
As a Premier, he has proven even more divisive than the idea of recognising Australia’s Indigenous people in the Constitution. When I asked a group of Victorians I happened to be standing near when Andrews’ resignation was announced for their thoughts on him, one cheered and leered as if they’d just heard a witch had died, another erudite type declared him a properly progressive Labor leader and a brilliant retail politician, a third laughed heartily and sniggered that, “Clearly, he’s finally been busted for something, why else would he go?” And a final, frowning fellow declared that “I never liked him, but I do respect him”.
What makes Andrews so remarkable, though, is that all of those people voted for him, at least at some point, and if I’d been a Victorian, I no doubt would have as well. Not because he was so great, or so Labor, but because the opposition in his state was, at best, a hot mess.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, a long-term friend of Andrews, sounded as if he’d just eaten something he’d forgotten he was allergic to, pronouncing himself “surprised” at the sudden announcement and describing Andrews “a builder”.
I think I hired a builder like Dan myself once; confident, convincing and hugely keen to get the job done. I liked the guy, at first, before gradually realising he was not being even 30 per cent honest with me, and that the bill I’d originally expected to be able to afford was actually going to blow out to the point where I’d be in debt for decades and thus have to cancel a giant party I was going to have at my place, one I’d invited a large part of the world to—all the Commonwealth nations, in fact —in a hugely embarrassing backdown.
All right, so my builder wasn’t that bad, but it’s safe to say I wouldn’t personally hire Andrews to build me a fire, let alone a functioning economy. As the Premier recently responded to a question about cost blowouts overseen by his government, including a $50 billion Suburban Rail Loop that had hit a predicted $200 billion: “Projects often cost more than the best cost estimates… anyone who has done a kitchen renovation knows that.”
It’s safe to say that most Premiers are not as kindly, or at least as widely, remembered as Prime Ministers, but there’s no doubt Andrews has staked his place in history as the longest-serving Labour Premier in the state, with nine years in office. It’s unlikely we’ll recall his fall down a set of stairs a decade from now, which is a good thing, but it’s also doubtful we’ll attach his name to his work on LGBTIQA+ issues, or the fact that his state was the first to introduce assisted dying laws, or his honest efforts to establish a process to negotiate a treaty with First Nations people.
And while Kevin Rudd might be at least partly remembered for his disastrous efforts to centralise power in his own hands, the fact that Andrews did the same, installing what a former staffer called a “centralisation of decision-making and media management” in the Premier’s private office, will no doubt be forgotten, too.
Even Andrews’ remarkable, and remarkably successful, efforts to dismiss various investigations into corruption on his watch, including describing a report from the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission as “educational”, will not linger long in the annals of history. Even though it should.
No, what Andrews will be remembered for, undoubtedly and ineffably, are his efforts to impose the harshest and most damaging lockdown in the country, and arguably the world, on Victorians during the global pandemic; actions taken with an almost irreligious fervour. At least, in that case, the rights or wrongness of his rulings will be debated for as long as people can recall the horror of the word “Covid”.
And it is worth pointing out that he had the courage of his convictions all through what must have been a personally excruciating period; fronting the media every day and honestly striving to save lives. The death toll in other countries certainly proves him wise.
Beyond that, though, Andrews will undoubtedly become the man who killed the Commonwealth Games, or, as one Labor powerbroker referred to his decision, the state’s “biggest reputational setback since the collapse of the State Bank in Victoria”.
Craig Carracher, a member of the Australian Olympic Committee Executive, attacked the Andrews decision: “It’s not the Australian way to put your hand up and then put it down again. You have to be held to account, it is a disgrace.”
And an expensive one at that, with Victoria eventually agreeing to pay $380 million to settle the disputes arising from the cancellation of the 2026 Commonwealth Games.
Canada’s call to cancel its bid to hold the subsequent Games, citing the Victorian decision as a “significant factor”, was surely the death knell of the 93-year-old sporting movement, one that Australians had a particular fondness for, seeing as we so often topped the medal tally.
Andrews has, somewhat suddenly, resigned the Premier position he took such pride and joy in, to spend more time with his family, but you’ll be able to blow his doubters down with even the lightest of feathers if it turns out that there’s something more to the timing of his call in the weeks and months to come. Because there’s just something ever so slightly mysterious about Daniel Andrews.