23.05.20. “There is nothing like a crisis to highlight the clear line between a leader who is authoritarian and a leader who is authoritative. The behaviour of two current Labor premiers explains the difference. And one Liberal bulldog is getting the attention he deserves for exposing the authoritarian one. There is a reason why West Australian Labor Premier Mark McGowan has been a standout leader during the crisis. He has been steely but empathetic, collaborative with Canberra but parochially protective of his state. He resolutely closed borders with neighbouring states, refused to have a Ruby Princess debacle on his watch, and was early and clear about reopening the economy and schools in a way that put other premiers to shame”
Source: Janet Albrechtsen, News Corp
Danbuster: Smith’s a chip off the old Kennett block
With an election early next year, McGowan will get a terrific boost from the tailwinds of his performance.
At the other end of the spectrum is Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews. This crisis has revealed those in power who enjoy parts of their jobs that they really shouldn’t, from overbearing police and overzealous rangers to the Victorian Premier.
It pays to remember Andrews’ determination to impose even deeper and more severe restrictions on Victorians was only prevented by behind-the-scenes battles within the national cabinet, led by Scott Morrison.
Ever since, the Victorian Premier has reacted in a churlish and authoritarian manner. He revelled in his power to ban golf, telling Victorians that no one “needs” to play golf. “No round of golf is worth someone’s life,” he said. It was nonsensical and weirdly controlling.
Compared with other state leaders, the Victorian Premier has offered the people in his state — those who have lost jobs or are stuck in zombie jobs or trying to keep a small business afloat — no glimmer of light until he was shamed into doing so. Even then, he dragged out the announcement — as if it was his last hooray.
Remember, Andrews was even gung-ho about banning partners who live in different houses from seeing each other. “That’s not work, that’s not caregiving, that’s not medical care, that’s not shopping for the things that you need when you need them. And you know, it does not comply with the rules. So people should not do that,” he said.
Has there been a more dismayingly cold diktat from a political leader in this country during this crisis? Even though he was overruled by Victoria’s Chief Medical Officer, Brett Sutton, the lasting impression is Andrews enjoys exerting power over people, rather than having empathy for them.
Despite all that, there is a growing cult of Dan Andrews backers in Victoria. Two reasons explain it. First, he is politically canny and brazen. What other state government could oversee, in a matter of months, the perverse prosecution and conviction of an innocent man, George Pell, and the release this week of an associate of drug trafficker Tony Mokbel — and avoid a backlash?
Second, the Liberal opposition in Victoria has been too spooked by Andrews to take on his lust for power. Some of their cowardice might be explained by polls that point to Victorians happily submitting to the deeper and longer lockdown imposed by Andrews. Certainly, so-called “progressives”, who aren’t very progressive at all, love a chap who gets a kick out of using power and growing the size of government.
Like Andrews, they place wisdom squarely with the state rather than the individual. They don’t mind the Premier’s plan to take Victoria’s debt to $70bn by 2021-22, up from less than $23bn in 2018-19. And as for government controlling all the levers of power? It’s manna from Heaven.
For other Victorians, what’s the alternative? To win the next election, due in November 2022, the opposition, led by Michael O’Brien, will need to do something entirely more courageous than its last election campaign. Maybe take the battle up to Andrews? Risk a few bruises rather than playing footsies?
If unchallenged, the Victorian Premier’s cult-like status will soon be on par with Gough Whitlam. And it doesn’t help that the Morrison government seems afraid of Andrews too. The humiliating backdown a few weeks ago by Education Minister Dan Tehan, after calling out Andrews for being beholden to education unions and showing poor leadership on schools reopening, will only embolden the Victorian Premier.
When Victoria’s economy drags down the rest of the country, Andrews won’t be held responsible for the latter. But that shouldn’t stop the Prime Minister prosecuting the case that Andrews is running a government that looks after its Labor mates. The Victorian Premier plans to borrow tens of billions to build things to help out his CFMEU mates. That’s not a slam dunk for the feds, given their own obscene borrowing splurge, but there is plenty of other fertile ground.
Start with the debacle surrounding Cedar Meats, a loyal Labor donor, now responsible for 106 cases of COVID-19 in Victoria. The state Attorney-General is still going it alone on contingency fees in class actions to boost the coffers of class action law firms such as Maurice Blackburn, which donate to Labor. And this week, the Treasurer, Tim Pallas, cosied up to China, repeating its propaganda rather than backing Australia over barley tariffs. Could he have tried any harder to sound like a lackey for China, his comments coinciding with final-stage negotiations between the Andrews government and Beijing over Chinese investments worth billions of dollars.
Against this dispiriting background, one young Liberal MP is getting attention. Alone, Tim Smith has taken the fight up to Andrews and the Labor government. Smith uses Twitter in a Trumpian way to bypass much of Victoria’s left-wing media. On Sunday, Smith ran a Twitter poll asking which label best described Andrews: Chairman Dan or Dictator Dan? The left went feral, forgetting or overlooking that Labor labelled former Victorian Liberal premier Jeff Kennett a dictator during the 1999 election campaign. For the record, more people preferred Chairman Dan.
It’s a neat fit with Smith targeting Pallas as a patsy of the Chinese Communist Party.
“Shame on you @timpallas. Your obsequiousness to the Chinese Communist Regime is disgusting. Whilst the Chinese Communist Regime is behaving so repugnantly, the Treasurer of Victoria is trying to suck up to them … how embarrassing for our country,” Smith tweeted.
The member for Kew seems to understand two critical rules of politics. When the other side yells at you, you get noticed. And don’t ignore your base: it’s where the longest-serving leaders lay the foundations for their success.
There is also something liberating in the risk-averse and blancmange world of politics when someone calls a spade a bloody shovel. Responding to his critics, Smith tweeted this: “Can I remind everyone that no one plays politics or the person more aggressively and nastily than Chairman Dan. This is the bloke who went out every day in opposition and accused the Liberals of killing people.”
If Smith secures a bigger public profile than the current Liberal leader, the Victorian Liberal Party may want to reassess its recent strategy of choosing blokes who are very nice but ineffectual: Ted Baillieu, Matthew Guy and now O’Brien.
There’s a whiff of Boris Johnson about Smith too. The 36-year-old is obviously smart, instantly separating him from the loudmouth loose cannons unencumbered by intellectual ballast. But unlike Johnson, Smith’s convictions appear to run deeper. As opposition education spokesman, he laid out a blueprint of basic principles for improving education that the whole country should be using.
Smith’s colourful and controversial style recalls another leader much closer to home. He has a bit of Jeff Kennett to him too. Like Smith now, Kennett in the 1980s was seen as too bombastic, too boisterous. Kennett lost the 1985 election after Labor cast him as a bull in the china shop. Controversial to the end, Kennett led the state for seven years, transforming its moribund economy.
Right now, Smith might be a bull in the Liberal Party’s effete china shop. But given the Victorian Liberal Party’s very ordinary record, it may take a calculated risk to unseat Andrews.
There is no obvious burning platform of Labor’s current maladministration that helped catapult Kennett to power. Not yet. But it’s time to plan ahead.