Springtime may be brightening up the lives of Victorians, but the stage light is dimming on Premier Dan Andrews.
Something has finally popped. After 30 weeks of hard lockdowns and forceful pleas for rule compliance, the public has had enough.
And not with the policy approach mind you, but with the man who personally authored it. The abandonment of Covid Zero has seen it all start to fall apart for Premier Dan Andrews. With this dramatic change in policy, Victorians have decided they no longer want the man who steered them through the opening phases of this frightening, global pandemic. Instead, they hunger for a leader who gives them a sense of hope for the future. An optimist. A visionary. And critically, a leadership alternative with an exciting plan for life with, and after, Covid.
Jeff Kennett suffered a similar turn of fate. Kennett — an outstanding leader in crisis — discovered people no longer wanted the fireman who so successfully put out the economic fire. The fire was out — and they didn’t want him to stay for dinner. After he was replaced, the era defined by his economic recovery drew to its natural close. Steve Bracks assumed power, the sky didn’t fall in, and the sun continued to rise. Just as it had under Kennett. And thus, an era had ended.
In these days of Covid, the Doherty Institute Modelling Report combined with the National Cabinet plan for opening up, will end the era of the Pandemic Premiers. These two announcements have switched something in the public psyche in which up is now down and down is now up. Unless the premiers start to radically rebrand themselves, they will start dropping like flies, election by-election.
Like other crisis era leaders, the popularity of the Pandemic Premiers is based on their management of the crisis itself. However, now that the test of the crisis has morphed from being the ‘calm at the centre of the storm’ to ‘managing our way out of it’, the primary driver behind their popularity has vanished. Just as Howard went from an irreplaceable leader to the PM who lost his seat, the public mood can change with a brutal and ungrateful cost.
With that in mind, the challenge is before new Victorian Liberal leader Matthew Guy to give the public something a Covid era Premier cannot – a post Covid style of leadership.
It won’t be easy. But it shouldn’t necessarily be hard. The pathway to government is wide open for a political party brave enough to be bold. If Labor is prepared to spend $150 billion on their dodgy Suburban Rail Loop across middle Melbourne, the Liberals can surely outflank them with a counter-proposal which sees rail lines extended into Rowville, Doncaster and the underdeveloped growth areas. Bolder yet, they could seek to redraw the political map by challenging Labor’s entrenchment in Victoria’s regional centres by committing a quarter of the SRL budget to reinventing regional infrastructure. Truth be told, with $150 billion already sitting on the table, the policy and political options are endless. The Liberals simply need to go for it.
With fifteen months to go before Victorians head to the polls, the Victorian Liberals have a real chance to give the public a glimpse of a bright, blue future. The long night of Covid is over. It’s time they hit the lights.
Asher Judah was the Liberal Party’s 2018 election candidate in Bentleigh. He tweets at @asherjudah.
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