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From Barry J Rumpf

Daniel Andrews, Labour Party premier of Victoria since December, 2014 has probably acquired a new title in recent times as “Public Enemy Number 1”.

Andrews is currently presiding over the worst national crisis ever to hit our country since the threat of Japanese invasion in 1942. His ineptitude in handling the COVID-19 crisis has led to calls from many quarters for his resignation or forced replacement, failing which, it is assumed that it is only a matter of time and tide until his inevitable defeat in the elections of 2022.

I do not subscribe to that assumption.

Andrews, a member of the far left faction of the Labour Party, has displayed throughout his career a fierce determination and pig headedness to get his own way and has generally succeeded in doing so. The Frank Sinatra hit song “My Way” could well have been composed just for him. There is only one way of doing anything in Andrews mind and that is his way or not at all. He does not enter into debate on the floor of the Assembly. He merely puts down whatever comes from the opposition benches by turning his back and sitting down in the knowledge that he has the numbers to put through any legislation he, or his party proposes.

Andrews’ career has been one of total involvement in government in one form or another. He has never held a job in the real world since he graduated from Monash University. He became leader of the Opposition during the reign of Ted Baillieu in 2010. Baillieu was succeeded by Dennis Napthine who Andrews defeated in the 2014 election.

At that time there was raging controversy over the construction of what was known as the East/West link, an extension of the Eastern Freeway through suburban Collingwood and Carlton to link up with the metropolitan freeway network. This proposal was fiercely opposed by two local councils that were not directly affected by the plan but both of which were heavily dominated by Greens councillors. They undertook mass disruption to drilling activities along the planned route and instigated legal action in the Supreme Court to stop the project. Andrews campaigned on a platform that he would cancel the contracts if elected on the basis that the contracts were legally invalid and would not expose the government to compensation for breach of contract.

Andrews won the election and cancelled the contracts. However his claims of no cost to the government were wrong and his government paid out over $1 billion in compensation to the contracted parties. His comment was that it was worth it. It probably was to him because it secured the support of the Greens preferences at the election.

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His first task as premier was to resolve a long running dispute with the ambulance paramedics. He just gave them what they wanted.

Soon afterwards he became embroiled in another furore when he announced drastic changes to the Country Fire Authority, the leading and highly regarded firefighting organisation outside the metropolitan area staffed predominantly by volunteers. The United Fire Fighters Union through its national secretary, had given strong support on and leading up to polling day in the 2014 election. These moves were to reward the union for it’s support by substantially replacing the non-unionised volunteers with paid professional fire fighters who were union members. At the same time he gave substantial benefits to the union to the point where the senior management of the CFA resigned en masse along with one of Andrews own ministers who was also strongly opposed to what he was doing.

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This made no impact on Andrews. The disaffected CFA membership vowed to mount a campaign to defeat him at the next state election but their efforts came to nothing. He was re-elected in 2018. In the meantime however the furore over the CFA dispute slopped over into the 2016 Federal election and the federal Labour Party accused Andrews of being the reason that it was defeated.

None of this had the slightest impact on Andrews and he continued to reorganise both the CFA and Metropolitan Fire Brigade into a new organisation, the blueprint of which was drawn up by the UFU and its national secretary Peter Marshall.

The CFA dispute was followed by a series of controversial decisions including the privatisation of the Port of Melbourne, the referral of misuse in public office of government staff by the Labour Party in the 2014 elections to the Ombudsman of which the finding was guilty and resulted in payment of a small sum by the party to recompense the public purse.

Then followed his euthanasia bill that was eventually passed by a conscience vote by a tight margin and the first foray into China with visits by his entire cabinet which ended in his second term with the signing of the Belt and Road agreement with the CCP.

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One might ask why, in the face of these controversies, did he succeed in 2018.

The answer is twofold. One is his gigantic programme of infrastructure construction the first of which was a programme to abolish all level crossings in Melbourne. There were about 50 of them and they were probably the biggest single cause of traffic congestion. The former Liberal governments were doing this at a snail’s pace; enough to keep the voters quiet. Andrews programme is well on the way to completion and has been an outstanding success.

The second factor in the 2018 win was the lack of any opposition. Ted Baillieu was without doubt the most ineffective and hopeless politician ever to be inflicted on the public. He did absolutely nothing. Late in his term he resigned in favour of Dennis Napthine who was not much better but in his defence one must say that he was left so far behind by Baillieu that he had little time to catch up. His chance was to launch the East/West Link but he muffed it.

The Liberal Party was so bad that the landslide to Andrews in 2018 was no surprise. The Liberal Party in Victoria is run like a private club. The chosen few, including the likes of Baillieu, still dominate. At the 2018 election their leader was a bug-eyed nobody named Guy and even up to polling day many people did not even know who he was. He was replaced by an equally inconsequential nobody by the name of Michael O’Brian, an acerbic little man with no personality and a face like a sour lemon.

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In 2020 we have had the bushfire crisis followed by the current COVID-19 pandemic. These events should be mana from heaven for an opposition but O’Brian remains silent. The massive discontent over Andrews handling of the coronavirus, if one studies the map, shows that the worst affected areas are all in Labour’s heartland. The swinging seats in outer Melbourne and the regional centres of Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong which have been traditionally held by Labour have recorded the lowest levels of infection. By the time 2022 comes around the bushfires have already been forgotten and, hopefully, so will then the pandemic.

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Andrews’ failures in the current crisis and the calls for his downfall come predominantly from interstate and have no impact on Victorian elections at all.

The other factor is that if Andrews were to go who would replace him. The leading members of his cabinet would be very unacceptable to voters in swinging seats. They are viewed with suspicion. James Merlino was the face of the demise of the CFA, his re-election in 2018 was a surprise given that he represents a semi-rural bushfire prone area. Pallas, the Treasurer is electorally unpopular, Pakula, Minister for everything else, was behind the rejection of the ADF personnel for the hotel quarantine work. He gave to private security contractors to provide work for his union supporters. There is nobody else worth mentioning.

For these reasons I cannot, unfortunately, see any hope of Andrews being defeated in 2022.

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