Social media went into overdrive mid-week, with memes and commentary, mostly in celebration at the surprise resignation of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.
It’s not easy to reconcile the reaction, particularly from Victorians, who only 10 months or so ago elected Andrews to a third term, resulting in him spending almost 9 years in the top job.
And while there was no ‘rulebook’ for handling Covid, Daniel Andrews, will most likely be forever be remembered as ‘Dictator Dan’ – the Premier who instigated the world’s longest pandemic lockdowns, which severely impacted the social cohesion and mental health of Victorians and all but decimated the state’s economy.
He also oversaw weaponised police brutality, which increased under Covid-19 – with some of the most horrific and violent arrests filmed and sent viral around the world, adding to Australia’s already damaged reputation for Human Rights.
Most would also agree that he also leaves Victoria in worse shape than he found it with crippling debt – perhaps the biggest challenge facing his successor Jacinta Allen.
There have also been insinuations about his reputation for bullying and turning a blind eye to the “toxic” culture of the Labor Party, both of which have surfaced in the past and been denied by Mr Andrews.
A controversial legacy
But news also emerged this week that the timing of Daniel Andrews’ resignation may be more premeditated than we’ve been led to believe. He has stepped down ahead of the findings of two important investigations – one into the politicisation of the public service and also an IBAC probe into the amalgamation of the state’s fire services.
The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) inquiry has been kept well under wraps. It is investigating potential corruption in the amalgamation of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and Country Fire Authority into one body, Fire Services, and has involved a number of hearings behind closed doors. It’s been reported that the final report has, in fact, been subject to ongoing court action, to keep it secret.
It’s not the first time that Andrew’s has been investigated by IBAC.
Operation Watts investigated whether political staffers, including MPs, engaged in misconduct while working in public office to direct ministerial and electorate office staff to perform party political work.
Operation Sandon looked at developer John Woodman’s influence over planning decisions through payments and donations.
Operation Daintree, handed down in April this year, investigated a $1.2m grant provided to the Labor-affiliated Health Workers Union ahead of the 2018 state election.
No adverse findings were made against Daniel Andrews, however Operation Daintree did find
That senior staff within the Andrews’ Government interfered and pressured public servants to ensure lucrative contracts were awarded to a key Labor Party ally without competitive tender.
In its report, IBAC noted “a range of concerning conduct and omissions in breach of the public duties and ethical obligations of ministers and ministerial advisors”.
It also identified “conduct by senior public servants that fell short of the required Victorian public sector standards.”
In particular, it coined the term, ‘grey corruption’ – which involves bending or breaking of rules, even if that might not amount to criminal behaviour. This of course, is a slippery slope, which erodes the standards of governance, and if left unchecked – has the potential to increase the risk of corrupt criminal offending.
However the former IBAC Commissioner also noted before standing down last year that under current Victorian legislation IBAC is powerless to do anything about this type of corruption.
And with Daniel Andrews now guaranteed a pension of up to $300,000 per year. And other retirement perks including a driver, and a car, we’re starkly reminded of the fact that while our politicians are remunerated well, it is very difficult to hold them to account for the decisions they make while in power, no matter how far-reaching the consequences of those decisions may be.
Stories of pork barrelling, misconduct, along with breaches of trust and power underpinned by a real lack of transparency at both a State and Federal level which if the news headlines are anything to go by, seem to be escalating – make a mockery of democracy.
Achievements of The Andrews’ Government
That said, while his legacy may be controversial, the Victorian Government, led by Daniel Andrews, did achieve some noteworthy things: Victoria became the first state to legalise voluntary assisted dying and decriminalised street-based sex work.
It gave same-sex couples equal adoption rights and was also the first state to start the process of negotiating a treaty with First Nations people, by establishing the First Peoples’ Assembly in 2019 – a group of democratically elected Indigenous people who provide advice directly to the government.
It also decriminalised public drunkenness which is an offence which affects a high proportion of highly vulnerable and disadvantaged people.
The Andrews government has also been progressive with regard to the switch to renewable energy sources.
Enter Jactina Allen
Daniel Andrews has been replaced by Jacinta Allen.
Her history in politics is well-documented, and the political commentators say she is well-equipped to face the upcoming challenges, despite what has been said about her responsibility for the failed Commonwealth Games saga.
Aside from that, Ms Allen is not well known, even in Victoria, and this at least probably allows her a ‘fresh start’ without too much baggage in the way of media controversy or public opinion.