Things have been grim for the Andrews ALP government for some time. Victorians voted in the Andrews Labor Government off the back of a lacklustre performance by the Coalition government, led variously by Ted Baillieu and Denis Napthine. The margin was slim. And the latest poll shows that this has reversed and opened a good deal. Labor are down 46-54.
When Victorians voted in 2014, what they thought they were getting was a sensible, down-to-earth, centre-left social democratic government. Sure, there was the bizarre decision to pay hundreds of millions of dollars not to build a road. But other than that, Dan Andrews presented as reasoned, and spoke as though he was willing to work with those across the aisle.
However, things have been far from rosy for Dan and his Victorian constituents. Let me recount a selection of his public policy train wrecks.
Andrews decided it would be a good idea to undermine the Country Fire Authority’s ability to function as a volunteer organisation. He achieved this by granting the rather militant Fire Fighters Union unprecedented power to affect the operations of the CFA through an enterprise bargaining agreement. Emergency Services Minister Jane Garrett, who showed principle and conviction by fighting back for the CFA, was removed from Andrews’ cabinet.
The next set of political masterpieces revolved around social policy. Andrews proved his (and his cabinet’s) inner-city elite bona fides by introducing a suite of policies which cut to the heart of the social fabric of society. First, he defended to the hilt the continuing operation of the Safe Schools program in Victorian schools. The anti-bullying program was, it turned out, government funded promotion of the radical sexual revolution. Along with this, the benign sounding Respectful Relationships program has been made mandatory in schools. Apparently, this is about combatting domestic violence, but it also turns on radical gender theory.
If that wasn’t enough social radicalism for Victorians, Attorney-General Martin Pakula introduced a bill to allow people to change the gender on their birth certificate to virtually anything. This bill was, thankfully, defeated in the Legislative Council. On the same day, a bill was also rejected which would have forced religious organisations (in the name of “equality”) to hire people who had fundamental disagreements with their organisations’ ethos. Either that or face tribunal or court.
Turning to environmental policy, Dan and his Labor friends decided to order some water from the non-functioning Wonthaggi desalination plant. And this when dam levels were, in the main, at a very healthy level. This decision was so out of left field that even the Greens came out and criticised it! The Government’s renewable energy policies also played a contributing role in the closing of Hazelwood power station, meaning that hundreds of Victorians lost their jobs.
To top all of this off, the Labor-appointed Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Telmo Languiller, was recently found to be claiming a significant amount of expenses for having a second residence. This would make sense if Mr Languiller was the Member for Bass or Mildura. But he is the Member for Tarneit; hardly a long journey to Spring Street. Unless, of course, he is travelling from his residence in the seaside haven of Queenscliff, which he claimed $40,000 of taxpayer’s money for.
Andrews rightly called for him to return the money. Languiller did so and resigned as Speaker. However, the expenses scandal didn’t stop there. The Deputy Speaker, Don Nardella, was found to be in a similar predicament. Nardella was the Labor MP for Melton and was claiming a second residence allowance also. Why? Nardella happened to live just around the Bellarine Peninsula from Languiller, in Ocean Grove.
Nardella has shown himself to be a true man of the people, someone who will stand up for the working-class no matter what the cost, by refusing to return the money he claimed on his Ocean Grove residence. I’m sure his constituents in Melton would be thrilled by his display of empathy and solidarity with the outer-suburban worker and taxpayer.
This string of crises and policy disasters leads to an obvious question: Is Dan Andrews about to get the boot? Do the ALP need to turn the boat around with a new captain? The recent poll suggests so. The Coalition opposition has hardly been setting the world on fire, and Matthew Guy has had the usual struggles of a first-term state opposition leader. However, 18 months out from an election, the ALP might need to consider their options. Either Andrews himself needs to change his policy approach, or the party will need to turn to a new leader.
There are few possibilities waiting in the wings. One is the is the Attorney-General, Martin Pakula. He sits on the far right of the party; hence his nickname, “Pakula the Hun”. He is quick on his feet, presents convincingly, and has plenty of front-bench experience. The Coalition have gleefully given him the moniker of “Crouching Tiger”, precisely because he is seen has next in line to Andrews. The recent combining of the right factions in the ALP will play into his hands with regard to the numbers game.
Jacinta Allan has been waiting in the wings for some time, has served on the front bench in two ALP governments, and has been a parliamentary warrior. For a party that doesn’t mind a bit of affirmative action, Allan is an attractive choice. Except she could probably get the gig on talent alone. Whether she has a stab this time around, she’s certainly one to watch for the future.
A dark horse is dumped minister, Jane Garrett. She showed conviction by sticking up the CFA volunteers against the demands of the United Fire Fighters Union and the Premier. And she paid the price. This kind of backbone shows she is potential leadership material. Whether she has the experience or the party behind her is a different question.
One honourable mention is current Deputy Premier, James Merlino. His portfolio of Education has been embroiled in controversy, not least over Safe Schools. And his biggest barrier is factional. Merlino is in the marginalised Shop Distributors Association faction. He will possibly continue as deputy under a new leader but seems an unlikely replacement.
The fear for ALP-types, regardless of their leader, is that to a large extent, they live and die by their inner-city elitist policy platform, so thoroughly enacted by this Government. This suggests that, unless someone can pull a left-wing Trump from within the parliamentary party, it might be too little, too late.
J.P. Tulkinghorn is the pseudonym of a public policy researcher and freelance writer.
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