Mr. Andrews was arguably the most ruthless political leader in Australia. The recent retirement announcement by Daniel Andrews, who served as premier of Victoria for nine years and leader of the state Labor Party for 13 years, came as a surprise to many, despite previous rumors. Despite promising to serve a four-year term after winning the latest election, he left office after just 10 months.
Assessing his period as state premier is still ongoing, but some initial observations can be made. On the positive side, his government made significant contributions to the state’s infrastructure by removing numerous rail crossings, constructing roads, and expanding freeways. This infrastructure development will be seen as his legacy and also contributed to his repeated election victories. Ordinary Victorians who benefited from these infrastructure projects rewarded the Labor Party at the polls, making Mr. Andrews the longest-serving Labor premier of Victoria.
However, these achievements are overshadowed by several policy missteps and a record of disastrous economic management. Foremost in the minds of many Victorians is his handling of the COVID pandemic, marked by constant lecturing, strict lockdowns, devastating impacts on businesses and employment, and a high death toll. With Mr. Andrews’ retirement, only Queensland’s Annastacia Palaszczuk remains as a COVID-era state leader. Speculation has arisen that she may also retire before the next election.
One of Mr. Andrews’ lasting legacies is the massive debt incurred during his tenure. Within three years, Victorians will owe $171 billion, surpassing the combined debts of Queensland, New South Wales, and Tasmania. The state currently pays $22 million per day in interest alone. Furthermore, the Andrews government introduced nearly 50 new or increased taxes, resulting in Victorians now paying the highest taxes in Australia. Despite the high tax burden, waste has been rampant, with billions of dollars spent on projects that were never realized or experienced cost blowouts.
The healthcare system is struggling with long waiting lists, and ambulance queues are unacceptable. In terms of economic performance, Victoria lags behind Tasmania, South Australia, New South Wales, and Queensland. Additionally, there have been policy disasters such as Mr. Andrews’s controversial alignment with Beijing, which contradicted the stance of both the Australian government and his own federal colleagues.
The question arises as to how Mr. Andrews has maintained such dominance in Victorian politics. One reason is his reputation as perhaps the most ruthless political leader in Australian history. He seized every opportunity to consolidate power, suspending democratic structures when branch stacking allegations emerged within his party’s right wing while turning a blind eye to similar accusations within his own left faction. He became an omnipotent figure, discarding opponents and rewarding supporters. This led to the moniker “Dictator Dan” taking hold, resonating with many, including members of his own party. Access to the premier was restricted, and he filled government institutions and agencies with his loyalists.
Another key factor in his success was his control over the political narrative and shaping of the zeitgeist. This was achieved through various means, including message control, social media dominance, and refusal to engage with critics. He declined to appear on talkback radio shows hosted by individuals who questioned his policies and simply dismissed any propositions he disagreed with as untrue. It is evident that every decision made by his government, even during the COVID-19 crisis, was informed by polling and focus group research.
Mr. Andrews’s retirement will have a significant impact on Victorian politics. His successor, Jacinta Allan, will face a daunting task of re-engaging with the public to change the hubristic image that Mr. Andrews fostered. This sudden departure also presents an opportunity for the Opposition, provided they can seize it. Labor has proven skilled, especially at the state level, in successful leadership transitions. However, the dysfunctional and divided state Opposition has hindered their ability to challenge Labor’s dominance. Unless this changes, Victorians are likely to continue re-electing the Labor Party.