Has there been a more successful creation of a modern woke state than that achieved by the current Premier of Victoria? Welcome to MelDanistan!
To the northerner, one can only engage in vigorous head shaking at the gall, the ideological precision and, above all, at the success of the Andrews project. He has not been cowed by the relatively limited powers of a state government operating in the context of Australia’s evolving constitutional arrangements, with all their tilting towards centralism, and the concentration of power in Canberra.
One is torn between revulsion and admiration, for the totality of his achievements in causes dear to a pulsating leftist heart. Bill de Blasio, a tall New Yorker buffoon who changed his name, and the horrid Londoner Sadiq Khan, Andrews’ equivalents in terms of commitment to the cause, can only shake their heads in wonderment at his progress towards a woke nirvana.
Australian and other conservatives must wonder, too, at the apparent incompetence of Andrews’ local right-of-centre opponents and their almost total inability to land an electoral glove on him.
I want to examine the Andrews story, to look in particular at the record in just a few areas – social policy wokeness; the politicisation of the police; abortion and euthanasia; the tilt to the green-left and its associated climate activism – to see if we can comprehend how all this has occurred.
But first, a little background on the man himself. Andrews was born to Jan and Bob in July 1972, in the dying days of the aged Coalition Government in Canberra and merely months before the ascent of Gough. He has been married to Catherine for 22 years and they have three children – delightfully named Noah, Grace and Joseph. Like most contemporary members of parliament, it seems, alas, Andrews went straight from university to working for an MP and thence to the Party machine, and on to the big house in Spring Street. He has been the Member for Mulgrave, in the capital city’s south-east, since 2002, and served as a minister in the earlier Labor governments of Bracks and Brumby.
Surprisingly, given some of his policy leanings, such as his vigorous support for abortion in 2008, Andrews had a Catholic background and education. He studied politics and classics in earning a BA degree from Monash, while living at Mannix College, so named after Andrews’ Christian namesake and a Catholic Melburnian titan who might be more than a little surprised at the young resident’s subsequent direction.
He is said to be still a practising Catholic. (Mind you so are Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden. I am not aware that any priest or bishop in Melbourne has sought to deny Holy Communion to Andrews for his personal support for abortion and homosexual marriage or his own Government’s heinous euthanasia laws).
At a personal level, Andrews appears to come across as a humble figure genuinely grateful for his ability to lead the people of Victoria. Andrews is from the left faction of his party, and it is noteworthy that, as Labor has lurched to what now counts as the Left (progressive and not so much socialist), more and more Labor premiers are permitted to come from that faction — Weatherill, Bligh and Nathan Rees, for instance. And prime ministers too, as the rise of Julia Gillard attests. It is all relative, of course. The activist magazine Red Flag has stated that “Daniel Andrews is no left winger”. Goodness.
In another, earlier (2016) Guardian article, the earlier quoted Gay Alcorn claimed, “Daniel Andrews’ government is unashamedly left wing at a time when Australians are more familiar with Labor governments run by the party’s right”.
To Red Flag, Andrews is a neoliberal, far more Blairite than Corbynista. And here is the rub. The quaint old left might well think this. But now most progressives, or at least many, are quite comfortable with capitalism. Many of them are indeed capitalists themselves. On social policy, Red Flag cites Andrews toughness on law and order, and sees his many wokenesses as merely policy trinkets for the left. Guy Rundle at crikey.com shares doubts about Andrews’ commitment to leftism, but mainly that seems to have been about factional preferment rather than policy.
Am I wrong then, to label Andrews’ Victoria as a woke nirvana?
To politics and government. Infamously, Andrews as Premier hosed over a billion dollars up against the wall by not building the east-west road link, as his first act of government in 2014. His major faux pas during his first term was the use of staffers in electoral matters – the so-called Red Shirts Affair – an oversight helpfully found by a tame VicPol not to have been in breach of any criminal sanctions, despite the referral of the matter to the Independent Broad Based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC).
In 2018, despite various minor (as they turned out) setbacks, Andrews won re-election in a proverbial canter, much to the amazement of out-of-staters. My own brief exposure to the last election campaign was to witness Opposition leader Matthew Guy’s cringeworthy debate performance, in particular in relation to attitudes to the notorious Safe Schools Program, a blot on the modern policy landscape.
Following Andrews’ victory in 2018, Labor eminence grise Graham Richardson glowing described Andrews as an electoral game-changer and the greatest politician since just about forever: “This bloke is the best politician I have seen since Neville Wran and Bob Hawke, who were two other Labor legends.” Very high praise indeed.
According to the sympathetic Gay Alcorn, ex-Age editor and now of the Guardian, writing prior to the 2018 election:
Whether you approve of his government or not, Andrews has done things, and his ability to “get things done” is Labor’s central – perhaps only – re-election story. You may not warm to Andrews. He may lack the smooth charm of former premier Steve Bracks or the bumptious energy of Jeff Kennett. Victorians may have little idea of who he is underneath the news soundbites. But Andrews is in a hurry, and after four years as premier, he has a record.
How does such an apparently nice fellow, a religious fellow indeed, a personable fellow albeit said to be a little “stiff” in his public persona, who has earned plaudits for his political smarts and his nous, come to be seen by many to the right of centre as a leftie ogre in charge of a nasty socialist utopia? Is his Government as bad as his conservative critics claim? How does he get away with it?
His government is both activist (busy) and progressive. Perhaps in Victoria, once described (admittedly long ago) as the “jewel in the Liberal crown” but nowadays seen as a “woke central” electorate where only mostly leftie Liberals prosper, there is a good reason why, to succeed politically, maybe you need to be leftish of centre (see my piece on the pre-selection battle of 2019).
According to one Labor figure:
… compared with Bracks and Brumby, Andrews has “taken it up a notch” when it comes to progressive policies. Andrews spearheaded the introduction of voluntary assisted dying laws, held a royal commission into family violence, championed Safe Schools and established the state’s first safe injecting room for people with drug addictions.
“Victoria is a bit different from other parts of our nation,” Andrews says. “I think we value fairness, inclusion, we put a premium on treating people well … having big hearts, as well as being the centre of thought in our nation. All the big reforms, all the critical thought, all the best research, all of that has always come out of this state.”
What have been the big Andrews plays that sustain a case that Victoria is, despite the old leftist bleating, Woke Central?
First, in social policy and cultural wokeness, Andrews ticks all the progressive boxes, strongly supporting Safe Schools, targeting “conversion therapy” for gays, apologising in 2017 to homosexuals for past discrimination, sustaining — indeed growing — the woke culture within agencies, for example in relation to de-christianisation and genuflection before indigenous-industry types. Andrews’ 2019 suggestion that the Parliament should open with something other than The Lord’s Prayer – not a million miles from Bernard Woolley, of Yes Minister fame, suggesting a “faith to faith meeting”.
The LGBT “community” has little to complain about south of the Murray (not that stops them) – if indeed they have much to fear anywhere else. Wikipedia notes:
The Australian state of Victoria is regarded as one of the most progressive jurisdictions with respect to the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.
On the matter of indigenous affairs, the farcical treaty with the first peoples was a states-first, and would have caused many “club sensible” members to think, again, “only in Victoria (or the ACT, perhaps)”. Then there are the safe injecting rooms, long a totemic indication of left liberal pieties in relation to drug use and abuse.
According to one piece after the 2018 election:
This is the most progressive state in our nation. Victorians are smart. Victorians have big hearts,” Andrews said.
“The safe injecting facility saves lives. Safe Schools saves lives. And we’ve seen some pretty low-road campaigns against both of those initiatives,” he said.
“They want big, broad, bold politics. Not this narrow, nasty stuff that was on offer, and it was rejected comprehensively yesterday.”
While the Premier declared the landslide election vote was an endorsement of the programs political opponents and conservative commentators claimed most Victorians were unaware of the programs and had not voted in support of them.
Martyn Iles the head of the Australian Christian Lobby, who had deployed a major campaign against the program, said he believed most Victorians were unaware of the Andrews government’s social agenda.
“I don’t think Victorians voted for the Andrews government’s social agenda. That’s a good thing. For the most part, they don’t know the first thing about it. That’s a bad thing.” Iles posted to Twitter.
Lyle Shelton, the former head of the Australian Christian Lobby, who is now the national spokesperson for the Australian Conservatives also said he believed voters were simply unaware of the government’s policies.
On this view, Victorians are no so much leftist as largely unaware of their government’s deep cultural Marxism. They only see the freeways, tunnels and new metro stations, and Liberal Party disarray (of which there was, and is, plenty).
To the hard left arguing that Andrews is no leftie, I would say – take a look around you and see what matters to 21st century progressives.
On the matter of mandatory reporting by Catholic priests of child sex abuse confessed in the sacrament of Reconciliation, introduced by Andrews but also by Liberal state governments, it must be said that here Andrews is not being so much leftist as merely woke anti-Catholic, and a virtue signaller to boot. He is both ticking a box (wokeness) and being populist (just about everyone hates Catholics). Awful policy, of course, and sacrilegious, but no skin of Dan’s nose, even as a Catholic. His public, casual smackdown of the Archbishop of Melbourne was that of a leftie throwing his weight around and knowing he will get away with it.
A final “achievement” in social policy in Victoria, pre-dating Andrews but still much championed by him post the Royal Commission into child sex abuse within institutions, has been the embedding of #MeTooism in the legal system, such that complainants are called “victims”, the survivor industry has a permanent place at the table, the justice system is populated with fully paid up #MeTooists, and complainants are afforded privileges in court not formerly afforded and not afforded to the accused. This all started just after the turn of the century, but judicial appointments under Andrews have done everything possible to further enshrine this approach.
One of the key outcomes of Andrews’ many “firsts” in social policy and the culture wars is that other jurisdictions are emboldened to follow suit, buoyed by the apparent lack of will in Victoria to oppose Andrews, and his ability to get away with ghastly social policy. Worse than the emboldening effect, it seems to be the case that opposing parties are mesmerised by the support for these policies that Andrews obtains, and then they follow suit! Leftist policy thus gets shunted to the political centre.
Second, in law and order, Andrews has VicPol house-trained, doing his bidding and, in return, receiving his protection. The case almost doesn’t need to be made that the policing of Victoria is both circus-like and utterly politicised.
The exchange of senior advisory staff between Andrews’ office and that of the Commissioner of Police is but one instance of the tightness between the two. Such appointments are telling. There is the non- investigation, let alone the non-prosecution, of Bill Shorten for an old alleged crime, even though now “we believe you” is embedded in policing and judicial practice south of the Murray, and even though we now understand that historical claims like those against Cardinal Pell are automatically believed.
There is the Red Shirts matter. There is the astonishing continued tenure of members of the senior police command, despite the almost daily humiliations of the police over Lawyer X at the hands of the McMurdo Royal Commission. There is VicPol’s political correctness, aligned so closely to Labor left talking points. There is the strategic leaking to isolate or humiliate (or both) the perceived enemies of the government, or of VicPol, or both. There is the attitude of look-the-other-way on African gangs, aligned to the messaging of “nothing to see here”. We need not even mention VicPol’s historic politicisation revealed by Sir Ken Jones back in the early 2010s. And the wokeness began at least under Christine Nixon, who was said to be more popular at one of the gay pride marches than Dykes on Bikes. It continues to prosper under Andrews.
Third, in relation to the hot button life issues of abortion and euthanasia, Victoria leads the world – literally, in the case of euthanasia – and has paved the way for other Australian jurisdictions to feel emboldened to follow suit. Dying with “dignity” is now celebrated in Victoria, as is up-to-birth abortion availability, or infanticide on demand as Tony Abbott might call it. It is these areas especially that Gay Alcorn insists the Andrews Government is “the most progressive in a generation”, both taking risks and disbursing serious resources for the cause. Others would no doubt agree, notwithstanding the old left warriors’ bleatings. The euthanasia bill was for Alcorn nothing short of a “remarkable achievement”.
Of course, the awful abortion legislation in Victoria was done and dusted well before the Andrews government’s tenure (in 2008), but Andrews remains a strong supporter of some of the most dangerous abortion laws in the world. He was part of the government that drove that legislation, and as has been the case with other areas of revolutionary policy changes, Victoria has simply shown other jurisdictions how it is done. That a Liberal-led government in New South Wales, albeit over a decade later, followed the Victorian blueprint demonstrates the size of the Victorian leftist political achievement. Progressivism indeed.
Fourth, in relation to environmentalism, Andrews has few peers. The 40 per cent renewable energy target for 2025 will have been welcomed by all those who make a buck out of the climate fallacy, from academics to child activists to bureaucrats to household-subsidy recipients of every hue. “An impressive shift”, according to one academic from the Parkville Asylum. If leftist academics are happy with progress, that is quite an endorsement.
From hydrogen investment programs to the carpeting of rural Victoria with wind farms, to the ongoing aversion to dam building in the face of droughts and floods, to the fifty per cent rebates for solar panels, to the 2019 approval for the largest windfarm in the southern Hemisphere, Andrews runs a green-left line. In renewable energy use, Tasmania, South Australia and the ACT are ahead of Victoria. Clearly, the cases of Tasmania (mostly hydro) and the ACT (a mere accounting error in relation to national energy) are special. That leaves only South Australia ahead, and that state is world class when it comes to energy suicide. So no shame for Daniel there. But it is the size of the Victorian target commitment and Andrews’ utter political determination that suggests that he will keep kicking goals for the Climate Council set.
Of course, Andrews encouraged his public servants to join the 2019 climate strikes that caused such disruption to the public.
And this is a corker:
School students striking for climate change also received the backing of the Premier’s department, which said their actions should be celebrated.
The Victorian Government’s appalling identity politics approach to education – perhaps no worse than those of other jurisdictions – will ensure that future generations will be as misled about the risks of climate change as our own times have been.
As then Shadow Minister Tim Smith has noted (“Left wing dominance over VCE classes has to end”, 2017):
Recently I was quoted in the Age regarding the recent VCE English exam and how one of its sections read like a green-left newsletter. I also brought attention to the perceived over-emphasis of green issues in the broader humanities curriculum.
Dominating themes of class tensions paint a bleak, negative and depressing view of our humanity. Rather than encouraging students to think clearly about moral dilemmas, which may be encountered in their lives, students are force-fed a diet of cultural and moral relativism.
Indeed. Champions of common sense such as Kevin Donnelly have been pursuing these issues with vigour and courage, to little avail in Victoria. So full marks to the Andrews government for indoctrinating the young with woke, leftist claptrap. Yes, Victoria is not alone in this, but all those who drive the indoctrination, located in the inner sanctums and outer reaches of The Blob, can sleep easy, knowing that Andrews is on their side and will never threaten their occupation of the commanding heights of the education policy community.
So what is the overall scorecard for MelDanistan?
The hard left’s claim that the Andrews government is not left wing is risible, and only serves to remind us how much the left has evolved in the West, and how effective the left has been in taking over the political centre in Australia, by stealth. And the leftist achievements to date, with much more promised, are no mere trifles, nor pandering to leftist groups. They really believe in what they are doing, and have an aptitude for delivering on their promises. Andrews always emphasises this keeping of promises. As for Greens alliances, Andrews simply doesn’t need them. He has, seemingly, gotten the Victorian punters to imbibe the Kool Aid.
And it cannot be emphasised too much that, a bit like Whitlam except that Dan gets away with it, Andrews’ list of “firsts” in social liberalism both sets the tone for others to follow. He gives permission and shows they, too, can get away with it.
Despite Andrews’ homely family background, youthful Catholicism and centrist persona and projection, his Government and his personal philosophy is massively green, massively woke, massively #MeTooist. And chillingly, he remains very, very popular. Yes, Victoria has earned its stripes as a source of joy for leftists all over the world.
New York’s Bill De Blasio and London’s Sadiq Khan should definitely venture Down Under to see how a pro does it.