Dan Andrews’ secret weapon is the man trying to beat him

This is part of our Victorian election series “Talkback”, featuring legendary broadcasters Jon Faine and Neil Mitchell’s takes on the campaign every Sunday. Read Mitchell’s piece here.

Will Dan Andrews meet his Waterloo in six weeks? Will ABBA determine the fate of the Victorian Premier on November 26?

“Anyone But Bloody Andrews …” is one of the sentiments oft heard by anxious politicians as they go knocking on doors all around Victoria. It seems terminal for the premier, until the words “… except Matt Guy” follow. Mamma Mia!

Some voters might be sick of Andrews but the polls show he is clearly ahead of Guy.Credit:The Age

Dan Andrews’ secret weapon is Matt Guy. Those who adore the polarising premier for his COVID management are not the issue here. Instead, it is the elusive swinging voter – exhausted from the past two years of disruption – casting around for a viable alternative, only to realise with an exasperated sigh that the only other choice as our fearless leader is the re-cycled Liberal.

Oppositions do not win elections, governments lose them, as Scott Morrison so unequivocally demonstrated. Albanese understood this political truism, offering a small target strategy that forced voters to concentrate on the Morrison government’s multiple failings. An attorney-general who thought it was OK to accept a million dollars from an anonymous donor to cover his personal expenses? How did anyone ever think that would fly? Surely it is referral #1 to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), once established?

It is three years this week since I weaned myself away from microphone addiction. Waddling away allows a more considered outlook than was ever possible from within the centre of the media storm, where my tendency to self-importance was only tempered by my short attention span.

Away from the media cocoon, in the real world, 98 per cent of people cannot name more than two or maybe three ministers in the government, and probably fewer from the opposition. The voters do not match the feverish excitement with which I used to greet every nuanced twist and turn of some supposed scandal.

Most voters cannot name more than two or three government ministers or members of the opposition.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

The economy, jobs, cost of living – as always – are the main influences on voter behaviour. Pandemic management and the residual frustration of a gaggle of anti-vaxxers and the chronically disgruntled are way down the list today and even less likely to feature by polling day. After all, with 95 per cent vaccinated, how numerous is the coterie of COVID casualties?

The intense campaigning over the next four weeks – when early voting commences – will see the well lubricated Andrews’ machine surge into top gear, with daily pantomime for the premier and his team, particularly showcasing Jacinta Allan as “next premier”. Despite Andrews’ predictable denials, a succession plan is in place.

There is little evidence of a strong “teal” campaign. Climate, integrity and sleaze are not issues in the state poll and there is little indication of any mass recruiting or high-profile candidates emerging.

For all the unanimity of the opinion polls, there is no such thing as a safe seat. Ask the still shell-shocked John Pesutto who improbably lost Hawthorn in 2018 or more recently witness the federal poll and its miserable outcome for the self-assured Josh Frydenberg in the Liberal heartland of Kooyong.

The Liberals expect to regain Hawthorn and a potential future leader in Pesutto. The ALP fears losing Richmond to the Greens as long-standing local member Richard Wynne’s retirement impacts the ALP vote. Out west, huge demographic shifts imperil seats from Melton to Werribee, including that of treasurer Tim Pallas. A 12 per cent buffer in Werribee might not be enough.

Former MP and shadow attorney-general John Pesutto wants to be re-elected in November.Credit:Joe Armao

As always, the sandbelt along the Mornington Peninsula will be crucial. The former conservative safe seat of Nepean swung in 2018, and the Liberal primary vote dropped to just above 30 per cent. If it is stuck with a three in front of it again then future Liberal Party meetings can be conducted in the proverbial phone box, if you can find one.

The Andrews team is dangling the tempting promise of more level crossing removals on the Frankston line, a potent offer for the sandbelt. The Liberals laughed at Andrews signature infrastructure policy when it was announced in 2014, and opposed SkyRail between Caulfield and Oakleigh, hoping to weaponise it to their advantage. That strategy failed spectacularly as did the East-West tunnel promise. The lessons seem not to have been learned and SkyRail is now used as the template for congestion-busting across the city. The Liberals cannot belatedly join that party in any convincing way.

Instead, their main battle still seems to be within their own ranks. Fundamentalist church types preselected through ruthless recruiting [called branch stacking in less polite circles] threaten to make them political fringe dwellers.

The shock resignation of the Liberals’ internal legal adviser this week – and the public leaking of it and her reasons for departure – has sapped confidence, morale and fundraising.

It is not hard to find people within the Liberal Party who now openly discuss the need for a split between the old school moderates and religiously inspired hardliners. If this year’s result is as gloomy as the more pessimistic polls suggest, the appetite for a reckoning will grow.

Guy’s promise to cap public transport fares at $2 was effective. For one day he managed to get onto the front foot. Georgie Crozier has cut through as did former leader Michael O’Brien, who broke his self-disciplined silence since being dumped by making a thoroughly proper point that the next IBAC chief ought not be installed on the cusp of caretaker mode.

Andrews publicly berated the Napthine government in 2014 for signing tunnel contracts in the last days before caretaker provisions kicked in and he would be wise to be consistent.

Even the floods work in the premier’s favour as he again dons the North Face jacket to stand with people in uniforms. The opposition is starved of airtime with no role to play. They might need to call SOS – another ABBA hit.

The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.

Most Viewed in Politics

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article