Daniel Andrews doesn’t like to talk about his legacy, so expect no fanfare from him when he chalks up 3,000 days as Victorian premier.
Australia’s longest-serving incumbent leader will reach the milestone on Monday, a feat only five of 47 Victorian premiers have managed.
The premier appeared unfazed by the looming milestone on Sunday as he continued business as usual attending the opening of the Victorian Heart Hospital at Clayton.
‘We promised Victorians that we’d build a dedicated Victorian Heart Hospital,’ he wrote on Twitter.
‘We said it’d be the very first in the country. And today, we opened it.’
Dan Andrews qualifies for a statue in the Melbourne CBD on Monday though he is playing down any fanfare
Mr Andrew’s 3,000 days in office will qualify him to be immortalised in statue outside Melbourne’s state government offices.
He will join the likes of Henry Bolte with 6,288 days as premier, Albert Dunstan with 3,834 days, Rupert Hamer with 3,209 and John Cain Jr with 3,047.
Former Liberal premier Jeff Kennett introduced the statue policy to honour premiers for their longevity but fell short of the mark when ejected from office at the ‘unlosable’ 1999 election.
Mr Andrews avoided the same fate in November, guiding Labor to another election landslide over the Matthew Guy-led coalition.
When asked about the 3,000 day milestone and accompanying honour, the Victorian Labor icon said it was just another day and he wouldn’t do anything special to commemorate it.
‘That was a milestone dreamt up by former premier Kennett. From my point of view, there’s no magic to that day,’ he said on Thursday.
‘People who spend a lot of time talking about legacy usually spend not enough time actually building one.’
Now 50, the Mulgrave MP has come a long way from the Monash University student that future Labor deputy campaign director-turned-pollster Kos Samaras first met in Young Labor in 1995.
Even then Mr Andrews struck him as a serious political operator, so he wasn’t surprised when the former assistant state secretary became parliamentary party leader in 2010 and led Labor back to government after one term.
‘He looked like someone who was clearly in the rush. At every level of his career, he was always at the pointy end,’ Mr Samaras said.
Mr Samaras, who worked with the premier during the 2014 and 2018 state election campaigns, said Mr Andrews was ahead of the curve in capturing the mood of millennials and generation Z on social issues such as climate change.
‘He became effectively the standard-bearer for that generation,’ he said.
Victorian Premiers who have reached 3,000 days in office qualify for the statues at 1 Treasury Place wit Henry Bolte, Albert Dunstan, Rupert Hamer and John Cain Jr already having theirs
Monash University political historian Paul Strangio also believes Victorians will best remember Mr Andrews for his government’s long list of social policy reforms and transformative infrastructure regime.
His stewardship of the state’s six Covid-19 lockdowns will also undoubtedly form part of his political legacy.
‘His management of Covid polarised the community, though the election would suggest it was fundamentally a noisy minority,’ Professor Strangio said.
Mr Samaras puts Mr Andrews’ longevity down to mental fitness in the face of internal controversies such as the ‘red shirts’ rorts and branch-stacking scandals, injuring his spine and ribs in a serious fall and threats to him and his family during the pandemic.
‘Every single other politician that has graced our parliaments, whether it’s federal or state, would have quit by now,’ he said.
While the electorate has rewarded him for his dominant style and mantra to ‘get things done’, Prof Strangio said the premier had put noses out of joint as he has become more powerful.
‘He’s reluctant when it comes to scrutiny. He tends to barge his way through controversies. He doesn’t ever take a backward step. He’s a very combative leader,’ he said.
‘It’s a bit of a double-edged sword.’
Prof Strangio said the lack of a viable alternative government has shielded his popularity from significantly waning and a level of party dysfunction has compounded his controlling instincts and further centralised power.
Daniel Andrews and Catherine Andrews attends the Melbourne premiere Hamilton at Her Majesty’s Theatre last year
Despite the premier pledging to serve a full four years, Prof Strangio believes the end is more likely to come no later than the middle of this term.
That would, he said, give his heir apparent and deputy Jacinta Allan time to make her mark before Victorians return to the polls in 2026.
‘He’s prided himself on renewing his government; he’s prided himself on the high-profile positions of women within the government,’ he said.
‘They’re all arguments as to why the imperative is probably to him stepping aside sooner rather than later.’
Mr Samaras is confident the pair have not entered into a Kirribilli-like agreement to transfer power but admits Mr Andrews’ exit will leave a hole.
‘There will need to be a recalibration in terms of how Labor markets its brand,’ he said.
‘The Victorian Labor party has to acknowledge that there is a very significant part that belongs to Daniel.’
Mr Andrews will surpass Mr Cain as Victoria’s longest-serving Labor premier in April and then set his sights on Mr Hamer and pre-federation premier James McCulloch, who in an apparent anomaly does not have a statue along Treasury Place.
A Department of Premier and Cabinet spokesman said, as a matter of practice, it provides a brief to the government on commissioning the statue after a qualifying premier leaves office.
Mr Andrews declared his successor will decide if and when the statue is built, not him.
‘It’ll be a matter for the 49th premier. It’ll be one of many things that person has to do,’ he said.
While acknowledging the potential for Mr Andrews’ statue to be vandalised, Prof Strangio noted the passage of time tends to soften views.
‘Putting everything aside – all the controversies, the fact that some people intensely dislike him – he is a very significant premier,’ he said.
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