Contributed from Victoria
So, Dan Andrews has quit as Victoria’s Premier. Although this had been expected, it has still caused a fair amount of comment. He was a popular premier, who could rouse the vitriol of his political enemies at the same time.
After 9 years at the helm, Andrews revealed that some things were possible, as it showed its limits, at least in terms of what a state government can do.
His greatest legacy is the scale of infrastructure development. Resources were committed to upgrade the backward state of Melbourne’s public transport system. More trams and trains were brought in, and their reach extended. Important upgrades of country rails were also made. It might remain an incomplete project. This doesn’t take away from the progress that’s been made. Roads have not been forgotten. Many have been upgraded.
Infrastructure expansion has created jobs and provided a boost to the Victorian economy. Vitoria was moving towards new trade possibilities through engagement in China’s Belt and Road initiative, until this was outlawed by the Morrison government.
Andrews is credited for leading the championing the rights of trans women and men, making is big increase to the number of women in the Cabinet, overseeing controlled legislation on euthanasia and medical cannabis.
There has been a fair amount of new investment in health, including the increase of nurses on the ground. Indigenous health has benefited.
These are the reasons why Daniel Andrews was a popular premier and the opposition was kept on a permanent backfoot, reduced to silly complaints and rumour peddling.
There is a dark side. With its limitations in being able to raise needs funds, the state government fell ever deeper into reliance on what is today called public-private partnerships. This means providing lucrative profit opportunities for the involvement of private business. This has been applied to infrastructure projects. There has also been the effective privatisation of the Port of Melbourne, VicRoads, and the Land Titles Office.
The public-private partnership method was extended with the re-establishment of the SECV, which is, a means to use public money to subsidise the private power companies.
The outcome has not always been positive. Take public housing. Projects to revitalise estates have resulted in decline in the public housing stock to hand over much of what has been newly built to developers to sell on the private market. Some of the stock was marked to be transferred to a poorly defined category of social housing.
Although the handling of the Covid outbreak was decisive, the manner could have been far more consultative and people friendly. A good example was the handling of the outbreak at the Kensington high rises in inner Melbourne. The response was brutal, treating residents and families as the enemy. Basic rights were trampled on.
The handling of the Flemington outbreak tarnished Dan Andrews reputation.
A big problem is that state government depend on the federal government for much of their revenue and this coms with conditions attached. But there is no way of getting around the ideology that the market must always be put in first place has been another driver. Both restrict what a state government can achieve.
Then there is the matter of political style. For far too long Victoria and the nation have been subjected to politics from the top down. What we need is far more politics from the bottom up.
This means decisions made through consultation with those affected. It also means developing participation. Politicians should be the servants of the people. It shouldn’t be the other way around.
Dan Andrews laves for his new life with some considerable achievements, but he and his government remained locked into a political ideology and style that Australia doesn’t need.