Opinion: Daniel Andrews resignation comes after long run dotted with luck and almighty recoveries

Image by Flo K from Pixabay
Tuesday 26 September 2023

By Mark Kenny

A version of this article was originally published by The Canberra Times.

In February this year, Daniel Andrews clocked up 3000 days in office.

This uncommon achievement came despite the Premier's standing as a political progressive and as a one-man show within his government.

That he now leaves office of his own accord can only add to his mastery and mystique.

His bombshell departure leaves Queensland's weakened Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and the ACT's Chief Minister, Andrew Barr as the leaders from the pandemic's arrival still standing.

"Dan" to his loyal supporters and "Dictator Dan" to his infuriated critics, Andrews has been the dominant figure in his state for nearly a decade. In all likelihood, he could have won at the next election too, so dysfunctional had his Liberal opponents become.

More than just a Melbourne colossus, Andrews became a household name nationally during COVID-19 when, from March 2020, he fronted daily press conferences going toe-to-toe with journalists.

It was a witty and willing theatre in which he excelled, using the occasion to speak directly with Victorians, routinely leaving reporters the worse for any "gotcha" attempt.

But it wasn't merely verbal tennis. In there too though was a government leader expressing real empathy, and able to cut through with language that offered calm reassurance. Perhaps the best explainer in politics today.

Closing pubs and restaurants in March 2020 was harsh news and yet even that added to his popularity as he quipped it was not an excuse to "have your mates around to home and get on the beers".

His anti-virus message went viral on social media, sparking memes and mashups.

For a time, it seemed that not only was Andrews the leader most determined to beat COVID-19, he was the only one really leaning into the task.

Through his public role and in national cabinet, Andrews seemed to drag others in his wake, forcing recalcitrants like Scott Morrison up to speed.

When news broke a year into the pandemic that Andrews had fractured his back on wet stairs at a holiday house, it was headline grabbing nationally. Early reports suggested he may not walk again.

On top of the life-threatening trauma of the virus emergency, it was too cruel.

But he recovered.

He also had some luck. Like all effective state leaders, Andrews knew how to leverage the parochial so when the Morrison government's leading Victorian lights, Alan Tudge, Josh Frydenberg, and Dan Tehan, made some ill-judged interventions against his government, Andrews portrayed them as state traitors.

Politics became a binary choice between his pro-Victorian Labor government and what he depicted as an anti-Victorian federal Coalition.

Of course, there were issues that needed probing by the fourth estate, not least the aggressive early lock-ins of public housing tenants in Melbourne's inner-north which discriminated against the poor, and the deadly debacle of botched hotel quarantine.

Neither has ever been adequately accounted for. And with each passing week, the scar tissue of various scandals, along with the state's parlous finances were mounting up. Andrews sniffed the breeze.

Outside of Victoria, the question begged by his mid-term departure is should Barr and Palaszczuk give their governments a chance at renewal and allow their replacements at the top time to establish themselves?

After all, who will believe their commitments to serve out another full term?

Mark Kenny is a professor at the ANU Australian Studies Institute and host of the Democracy Sausage podcast.

Updated:  27 September 2023/Responsible Officer:  Institute Director/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications