The Daniel Andrews paradox: the enduring appeal of Australia's most divisive prime minister

He's steady, sour, the opposite of charismatic. Despite the lockdown and scandal, Daniel Andrews plans to win another four-year term. Margaret Simons explores why Victorians remain captivated by it

On 27 February 2003, the MP for Melbourne's outer suburb, Mulgrave, stood for the first time in the Victorian parliament. Girls' speeches are traditionally where new MPs lay out their core motivations and vision, but Daniel Andrews avoids evocative prose or self-creation. There is nothing in the first show to suggest that 19 years later, he will be Australia's longest-serving leader and one of the country's most important politicians.

Politics, he said, was a "good profession".

The source of that honor? “Hospital when we are sick; schools to give our children the best possible start and a police force given the resources it needs … these are things that define the country's politics – at least they should be.”

A former senior civil servant who has worked closely with Andrews said, "I doubt whether he will change the ten or talk it out today." He would not add big words: “He thinks there is a limited market for visionary leaders”.

Andrews' political methodology is an exercise of power that enjoys harsh, pared-down, practical and sometimes ruthless, rather than the product of intellectualization or rhetorical development. He thinks in the big picture, but speaks small and concrete. The former civil servant said: “He was a visionary. But he's a visionary without a guide."

On November 26, Andrews will seek another four years as Victoria's prime minister. If successful, as all polls and pundits hope, he will continue to lead the state for a total of 12 years. It is the kind of longevity that transforms society, dominates the idea of ​​political possibility, and defines community.

But for those outside Victoria, and many of those inside, Andrews' grip on the state can be astounding.

He, in his second term, confined Victorians to their homes in the country's strictest Covid lockdown measures and some of the world's most rigid. His reign faltered, made very common mistakes, was wrapped in scandal, and capricious. The level of national debt soared. Every dinner party or gathering at the school gate includes a story about the health system at its knees.

The media section, particularly Murdoch's tabloid Herald-Sun, has been persistently negative about every aspect of the Andrews government, sometimes with little respect for facts. The popular radio host also likes to kick it. Nine Entertainment's Age newspaper is more balanced, but not the fans.

But its public opinion ratings are formidable. He seemed untouchable.

Victoria's story as it approaches the election is partly about the nature of the state, and the differences between it and the rest of Australia.

It is also about modern Australian political leadership, and in particular the type of Labor leader that emerged from factional warfare and party dysfunction. No part of ALP is more toxic than the state branch of Victoria. And no Liberal party is more unfortunate.

But it's also about this man, Daniel Andrews. Even before a serious back injury forced him to take six months off, he walked with a forward hunchback, as if about to push through a scrum. He's earnest, dour and persistent – ​​the opposite of charismatic – but, as he demonstrated at his incredible 120 answers-all-questions Covid press conference, is oddly compelling.

Character and love So close to the election, even Andrews' normal critic is reluctant to speak for an essay of this kind. But the straightness of his persona and personal history is well known, and etched in the public consciousness.

A recent biography of Andrews by political journalist for Age Sumeyya Ilanbey reports that some of Andrews' colleagues consider him a narcissist. That's for the pathology of what others describe as a strongman style – determined and intolerant of dissent – ​​combined with a very government-centred approach.

But sometimes he shows courageous compassion. On the day the high court acquitted then-Catholic archbishop George Pell of child sexual abuse charges, Andrews tweeted that he had no comment on the ruling: “But I have a message for every child sexual abuse victim and survivor: I see you. I heard you. I believe you."

A former cabinet minister interviewed for this article commented: “I am not very familiar with Dan personally. He was a very tough man. But look at that. He didn't need to say it. He didn't need to say anything at all. For those who say he is a narcissist – consider empathy. And in that I see the roots of his progress."

People compare him to Anthony Albanese. The two men were friends, sharing a flat in Canberra when Andrews worked on the political staff. Both Andrews and Albanese rose to assistant secretary of their state ALP organization – the most senior position for the Left faction – Albanese in NSW, Andrews in Victoria. Both were known as accomplished apparatchik and faction operators before entering parliament.

There is another thing in common: they have in common, for example, a reputation for “freezers” – a willingness to sidestep rivals and those who displease them. But there are also important differences. Those who knew Alba during the factional fighting in Sydney spoke of how passionate he was, sentimental and how quick to cry. Nobody had a story like that about Andrews.

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