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Why does the Morrison Government loathe Daniel Andrews?

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

Why does Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews seem to hold pride of place as the Morrison Government’s most-detested state premier?

Viewers of ABC’s Insiders on Sunday (3 May) were stunned at the spectacle of Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan attacking Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, only to recant and make an apology, of sorts, later the same day.

TALKING OUT OF SCHOOL

It’s hard to tell if Tehan’s hissy fit came because he had no answer to host Speers’ questions on the conflicting advice for parents – whether they should listen to state premiers on sending their kids to school, as previously advised by the PM, or to the Federal Government’s insistence that it was all perfectly safe – or, if he just couldn’t hold that vitriol in a second longer.

Either way, on the attack Tehan went:

“Daniel Andrews has taken a sledgehammer to the education system…

...This is a failure of leadership by Dan Andrews, let’s be clear about that.”

During his tirade – which was quickly exposed as both entirely political and unfounded – Tehan warmed to his subject as the show progressed, accusing Andrews of “jeopardising the national consensus” and declaring, “It’s time that we seriously call Dan Andrews out on this”.

On face value, the answer to the question of why Andrews has become the Morrison Government’s main political target is simple: Andrews is Labor, he’s outspoken and he’s popular, with an overall approval rating of 75%. These reasons, however, don’t quite cover the level of antipathy directed at Andrews by the Federal Government. Nor do they easily explain the gusto of hatred employed by conservative head cheerleader and stalwart anti-Labor megaphone, News Corp.

WA Premier Mark McGowan is also Labor, after all. And he enjoys the highest approval rating of all the states (both Liberal and Labor) at 89%.

Queensland Premier Anastacia Palaszczuk is also Labor, though admittedly, Liberal-lite in many policy areas. Palaszczuk’s approval rating is the lowest of all the states at only 55% as Queensland heads to an election this year. It’s important to note, though, that the Queensland Premier’s approval rating was only 40% when she managed to win the last election. Surely, then, wrath directed at her would be politically expedient?

While these premiers are hardly favoured by the Morrison Government, however, they are comparatively, at least, let off pretty lightly.

ROAD BLOCKER

Andrews first attracted the ire of his conservative opponents when he burst into power vowing to undo the controversial East West Link. A pet project of former PM Tony Abbott, this doomed road was so loved by the Victorian and Federal Liberal parties, that they even signed a contract to gift developer East West Connect $1.1 billion in compensation, in case an incoming Labor government chose not to build it.

Unfortunately for the conservative side, Andrews won anyway, in an election which demonstrated that Victorians were not enamoured by the project, nor of being blackmailed, preferring their hard-earned money to be spent on public transport — as originally promised by the Coalition, who also did not mention the road when it was elected. 

The Coalition has refused to bury the project, which would have cost $22.8 billion had it gone ahead and even as late as 2019, Morrison attempted to revive it, offering $4 billion towards the cost. Andrews' response? His Government would not be building it. Case closed.

The Victorian Premier has continued to do his own thing, steadfastly ignoring the jibes and the attacks and just “getting on with it” as his slogan suggests. Frustratingly for his opponents, he also rarely engages.

On the Tehan commentary, for example, Andrews said simply:

“I’m not particularly worried about Mr Tehan … Ultimately … fighting amongst ourselves is not what is needed. Fighting this virus is what is most important.”

And it is clear that Tehan, while he may have been instructed by his PM to subtly criticise the Victorian Premier for daring to ignore Morrison’s increasingly desperate stance on getting the kiddies back into class, did overdo things. So much so, that the pushback on social media was surely the thing that led to his half-hearted apology. For though it is clear that Morrison would like to see Andrews taken down several notches, he also recognises the importance of the public mood. Especially since, on the matter of the National Cabinet and the pandemic, his only consistent message has been that people should follow the advice of state premiers.

But the Anti-Andrews camp may harbour an even more vulnerable underbelly.

RENEWABLE ENERGY PUSHER

Not since Jay Weatherill, in fact, has a Labor Party premier raised the hackles of the conservative side of politics quite as much as Dan Andrews. The former SA Premier was, of course, blamed for all manner of problems and catastrophes even – paradoxically, given his policy platform of embracing renewables – for freak storms.

And therein, perhaps, it is Weatherill who holds the clue. He was a staunch renewable energy advocate. Not coal. Not fracking. Not fossil fuels.

McGowan and Palaszczuk have instead taken it on the chin and embraced fossil fuels in their respective, fossil-fuel-dominated states.

But Andrews, like his earlier SA counterpart, has actively refused to worship at the altar of fossil fuels.

FRACKING HATER

Instead, he has also committed to pursuing renewable energies. And Andrews, in a first for Australia, has banned fracking and coal seam gas exploration — going as far as enshrining the ban in Victoria’s Constitution.

Just this week, Energy Minister Angus Taylor has unveiled the Morrison Government’s intention to take funding designated for renewable energy development and redirect it into “hydrogen energy projects”, powered by, wait for it ... fossil fuels.

Andrews dared to ignore pro-development policies? That was upsetting.

He dared to ignore Morrison’s hysteria over the reopening of schools? That’s quite unacceptable, especially given all the teams in the National Cabinet are trying to play nice for the cameras.

But turning his back on the fossil fuel industry? The Coalition’s chief sponsor? Well, that’s just unforgivable.

It is unsurprising then – given that where the Coalition goes, the fossil fuel industry and its donations aren’t far behind – that this refusal to cook with gas, maybe even more than his previous disobedience of Federal Government policies, is the reason that Daniel Andrews has overtaken Jay Weatherill as Team-Coalition’s public enemy number one. For it is a team primarily sponsored by fossil fuels.

This editorial was originally published as part of the Independent Australia weekly newsletter. These editorials are usually only available to subscribers and may be read online in the IA members-only area.

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You can follow executive editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @VMP9. You can also follow Independent Australia on Twitter at @independentaus or on Facebook HERE.

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