Shortcuts / 24 November 2022

The 2022 Victorian election

Victorians head to the ballot box on Saturday and this campaign has been pretty bruising. Premier Daniel Andrews is going for a 3rd term, and while the polls suggest he’s on track to stay in power, the state’s seemingly endless lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 meant the gloss has well and truly come off. So in this week’s Squiz Shortcut, we take a look at the post-COVID vibe in Victoria, why Andrews has earned the name “Teflon Dan”, and how the election might play out.

Hasn’t Daniel Andrews been leading Victoria forever?
Well, of those in power at the moment, he is Australia’s longest-serving political leader and is up to his 4th prime minister… And it’s fair to say that because of the pandemic, Aussies countrywide know who Andrews is.

Of course – he’s the North Face jacket guy…
That’s him… COVID raised the profile of a lot of state premiers with their daily press conferences, and Andrews was particularly prominent because Victoria had the worst COVID experience of any state.

It had a really bad run, didn’t it?
It sure did, and last year it was getting all sorts of international publicity for being the world’s most locked-down city at 267 days in total. Right from the start as case numbers started to climb – especially in Sydney and Melbourne with returning travellers – other states closed their borders to Victoria and NSW.

And then those 2 states did not see eye to eye…
That’s because Victoria and NSW had different approaches to rising case numbers. Andrews was set on an elimination strategy, and then-NSW Premier Gladys Berijiklian also oversaw big lockdowns but took the approach that “we need to learn to live with COVID”.

What was the standout in Victoria’s COVID experience?
The state’s 2nd COVID wave in June 2020 that put Melbourne into a 111-day lockdown.

Remind me what happened…
So back then, all travellers returning to Australia had to spend a couple of weeks in hotel quarantine. Unlike other states, Victoria’s hotel quarantine system used private security guards, and a big inquiry found they had lax procedures. So COVID got out and accounted for more than 20,000 cases in Victoria and more than 800 deaths.

It’s all coming back to me…
… and that outbreak claimed the scalp of then-Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos after Andrews said he held her responsible.

Andrews faced no repercussions himself?
Not really, and that gets us to the nub of the context of this election – and that is down to the man they call ‘Teflon Dan’.

Meaning not much sticks to him?
That’s it. And that’s because Victorians’ view of what went down during the pandemic is quite complicated.

Please explain…
Former Victorian Labor official/current top pollster Kos Samaras says Andrews “became like the footy coach – Victorians could simultaneously feel angry at him when things went wrong, but they will stick with him and defend him.”

What else makes him ‘Teflon Dan’?
It goes deeper than his handling of the pandemic. Since his premiership started in 2014, his government has been caught up in 4 investigations by the anti-corruption watchdog.

Yep, and the latest was just a few weeks ago – the Herald Sun revealed the state’s anti-corruption commission – known as IBAC – was investigating a $1.2 million government grant given to a union on the eve of the 2018 election.

How serious is that accusation?
We don’t know yet. Andrews wouldn’t say if he or his staff are being investigated. However, we do know a lot more about another major investigation by the watchdog and the Victorian Ombudsman.

Do tell…
That report was tabled in the Victorian Parliament back in July and uncovered some pretty serious stuff. The quotes in the report were about “egregious” and “extensive misconduct” by Victorian Labor MPs. We’re talking about rampant nepotism, widespread misuse of public money and a culture of branch stacking dating back decades.

That’s quite the list…
And Andrews has been premier for nearly 8 years and Labor leader for 12 years – so all of this happened under his watch.

How has he responded?
Andrews said he took “full responsibility” for the conduct detailed in the report. He called the behaviour disgraceful and said he would accept all 21 recommendations including the establishment of a Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner.

What else did IBAC have to say?
It said Labor had learned little from issues identified as long ago as 2014 when it was caught out and had to repay public money for employing its election campaign workers on the public purse. This was known as the “red shirts” scandal.

How has Andrews been able to survive all of this?
It’s a question that’s been consuming the talkback airwaves in Victoria. Andrews points out he’s never had any adverse findings against him personally by IBAC. 

So is the Coalition squeaky-clean?
Well… During this campaign, the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) has asked IBAC to investigate leader Matthew Guy’s former chief of staff over a possible breach of donation laws.

How did that go down?
Guy was furious and accused the VEC of interfering in the election, and the Liberal Party’s lawyers sent a cease-and-desist notice to the VEC.

So who’s going to win the election?
Not so fast… Historically, it’s a tough ask for the Liberals. Former PM John Howard once called Victoria the “Massachusetts of Australia” referring to its centre-left leanings.

What’s Labor’s record?
For the past 40 years, Labor has won 8 of the past 11 elections. Jeff Kennett’s back-to-back terms as a Liberal premier in the 90s were a bit of an anomaly.

How did Andrews go last time?
He won the 2018 election in a ‘Dan-slide’. He improved on his 2014 majority to win 55 seats out of 88. The Coalition got thumped and was reduced to 27 seats.

Yep, and in the aftermath of that 2018 result the Libs dumped their leader Matthew Guy and replaced him with Michael O’Brien. But then just last year, O’Brien was dumped after being criticised by his colleagues for not being able to land a blow on Andrews, so Guy was brought back from the wilderness.

That’s politics for you…
It’s not over till it’s over – and even then it’s not over…

So this 2022 contest is basically a repeat of the 2018 election?
Yep – and the conventional wisdom is with such a large parliamentary majority, Andrews and Labor will be back for a 3rd term. In early November, all the major polls lined up to give Labor a substantial lead.

Can we trust the polls?
Well, Labor’s own strategists think some of the polls at 60-40 to Labor are way off. They think the shine has come off the Dan brand and seats will be lost.

But voters aren’t exactly flocking to the Libs?
That’s the vibe, and Labor reckons the only thing that will get them over the line is that there’s no particular love for the Coalition.

What about the policies?
Glad you asked. Some on the Liberal side reckon the electorate is largely switched off except for a couple of issues: Labor’s commitment to bring back state ownership of energy assets and the Liberals’ offer of $2 all-day public transport fares.

So at the end of the day, that’s what weeks of campaigning come down to…
Politics is a tough business…

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