Victoria 2022—It Takes More Than Tough Decisions to Make a Leader
Posted on November 30, 2022
A few days ago, Australia’s second-most populous state Victoria re-elected the Labor government of Daniel Andrews, giving the socialist-faction leader a third term in office.
In his victory speech, Andrews praised the inspiration of his mentor, former Australian prime minister Paul Keating, who looms as an interesting character in this context.
Securing the prime ministerial mantle in 1991 through a leadership challenge, Keating served just one full term. He left politics in 1996 after an epic electoral loss.
Andrews valued his party elder’s wisdom. He said that Keating once told him:
Son, leadership is not about doing what is popular, leadership is about doing what is right.
Keating gained notoriety as a federal treasurer when he told Australians that their 1990 economic downturn was “the recession we had to have.”
Yet, what unites Andrews and Keating is not leadership doctrine: rather that their electoral victories came at the hands of insipidly led, uninspiring oppositions.
Keating won his prime ministerial term in 1993 against a conservative coalition pushing a Goods and Services Tax. Unpopular as that was, it wasn’t the threatened tax that sealed his victory, rather Liberal opposition leader John Hewson’s primetime inability to price a birthday cake with it.
A parallel can be drawn with Andrews in 2022. Despite Covid-19 interfering with a dubious infrastructure-fuelled agenda overlaid with controversial Chinese ties and alleged political corruption—no one in opposition had the competence to offer an alternative picture of government: this, despite a conservative media machine steered by the likes of a former federal Liberal Party treasurer, a billionaire, a public broadcaster who once sought Liberal party leadership too, and The House of Murdoch spewing partisan anti-Andrews hate.
Andrews’ early insistence on a scientifically backed pandemic response through 2020 divided the state into Covid-Zero and Covid-Denial camps. He was vindicated when it became clear that deniers, despite their media noise, were in the minority. Andrews delivered “quadruple doughnuts”—unique to any Australian jurisdiction—days of 0 new Covid cases, 0 old Covid cases, 0 Covid mystery cases, 0 Covid deaths.
In 2021 he caved to a perceived need for popularity. Last weekend he took the denier’s message to the polls. “Covid exceptionalism is over,” he told voters.
It’s not quite clear how that phrase entered the pandemic vernacular—first mentioned by Labor prime minister Anthony Albanese at National Cabinet, it was likely a management consulting concoction: a phrase that meant absolutely nothing but had the aura of marketability.
And though Andrews blurred the line between Victorian Labor and its conservative Liberal/National opposition, he still won.
The “right” decisions, therefore, didn’t return Andrews’ premiership—nor did popularity. The conservative opposition’s inability to paint a vision for Victoria gave them another term in the wilderness.
When your state is still recording 20,000 Covid-19 cases a week while curtailing PCR testing and open reporting; when your state is killing close to 100 people a week from Covid-19; when your state is pushing the marketing message of “living with Covid” despite the disease’s health impacts and unknown long-term dangers—these are not “right decisions” any more than inflicting economic hardship on the poor. This is the Victoria of Daniel Andrews today.
In war people die. It’s accepted that generals send the young into the meat grinder where victory is measured by territorial objectives.
Covid-19 is a different type of war.
If in that fight, it is not the vision of a political leader to keep a population alive and healthy, not only are the wrong decisions being made but there is no leadership.
Political leadership is “vision”.
That the Victorian opposition had none, whereas Andrews had his 2020 record against Covid-19 in people’s minds—that’s why he won last week, or rather the Liberal/National parties lost.
You see, leadership is not about “doing what’s right” at all. In fact, we praise leaders for getting it wrong. So long as those decisions go towards securing the “right vision”: that’s all that matters.
In terms of Covid, that means preserving life with every tool that science and exceptional problem solving bestow.
No son, a good political leader is one focused on the people.
© 2022 Adam Parker.