The curious case of Daniel Andrews, the receding premier

Andrews said he voted early with his wife and two adult children at a city booth because it was the most convenient time and place for them to do it. When asked if some of the Mulgrave campaign had become unsavoury, he carefully replied: “I’m not making any comments about any particular booths but I think voters just want to vote. I think we should always cherish that.”

There is a growing view among campaign strategists from both sides of politics that traditional media outlets, whether this masthead or others, don’t influence people’s voting behaviour like they used to.

And most tellingly, Labor strategists believe that a significant chunk of the electorate has turned off Andrews.

Dislike of the leader is not as potent a factor as it was in this year’s federal election, when there was a visceral rejection of Scott Morrison, but the anti-Andrews sentiment being detected in internal Labor polls and focus groups is strong enough to raise an intriguing question.

What should you do if you are a voter who likes what Labor is offering but wants to see the back of the premier?

When Andrews was asked this earlier in the week, he showed the briefest flash of annoyance before returning to his campaign theme : “My message to every Victorian voter is the only way to get the projects we need is to vote Labor. The only way to make kinder free and bring back the SEC – government owned renewable energy – is to vote Labor.”

The Westgarth Kindergarten was an ideal place for Andrews to make his closing argument. The sign at the front gate of the adjacent primary school promises “safe, fair and friendly” and the kinder would benefit from one of the $5000 grants Andrews announced on Friday to help pre-schools buy toys or other play equipment.

Not for the first time in this campaign, every child will get a prize.

Free kinder. Free TAFE. Massive government investment in renewables and bringing back the SEC. The Big Build. The bullet points of Labor’s election pitch are by now well ingrained in the mind of any voter who has been paying attention.

Over recent days, Andrews has added a twist, warning in increasingly alarmist tones about the Coalition’s purported plans to “cut, close and cancel” everything that isn’t nailed down. “These Liberals have got candidates running who are opposed not just to free kinder, they are opposed to kinder itself,” he said, referring to rogue Narre Warren candidate Timothy Dragan, who said recently: “I don’t even support the idea of kinder.” Suddenly revealed! A secret Liberal plan to kill kindy.

Matthew Guy dedicated the final day of his campaign to the fiscal consequence of the government’s enormous infrastructure agenda and pandemic spending, the state’s looming $167 billion debt.

Guy isn’t promising austerity measures and not much financial restraint. Instead, the Coalition has vowed to cash out the state’s recently established Victorian Future Fund and use the money to pay off debt. It’s more or less what the fund was intended to do, albeit to accumulate over time and offset borrowings. The fund is forecast to reach $10.9 billion by the time of the next election and the Coalition says it will use $10.2 billion of this money to retire debt.

This 11th hour policy emerged on the second last day of the campaign, when the respective treasury spokesmen made cameo appearances to explain how much their party’s election promises would cost.

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Inside the spacious surrounds of the Carson Conference Centre, a 430-seat auditorium within the $73 million union branch office building of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Foundation, Treasurer Tim Pallas stood on stage before a towering red screen emblazoned with Labor’s catch-all appeal to pragmatism: Doing what matters.

Labor’s costings were distributed in a glossy pamphlet with the ubiquitous iconography of the Andrews government: wind turbines on a hill, nurses at a bedside, a smiling tradie in high-vis and of course, the Multiplex cranes more recognisable to Melburnians than the Concert Hall spire.

Victoria’s finances are not so glossy. Nonetheless, having squeezed what he could out of budget contingencies, Pallas sought to make virtue of promising to return a $1 billion budget surplus four years from now. The only red we’ll see is the massive, projected screen behind him, he quipped. He put the total campaign spend at $11.7 billion.

A few hours later, it was opposition spokesman David Davis’ turn. Journalists were led into a cramped, disused meeting room on the second floor of a city office building the Liberals are renting for their campaign headquarters. The room was hot and stuffy and the press conference which followed a sticky mess.

The first question, from Seven News’ Sharnelle Vella, should have been a doddle. How much do your total election promises add up to? Davis rifled through his A4 papers like a student who hadn’t read his homework.

Flash in the pan? Opposition Leader Matthew Guy and Liberal candidate for Eureka Paul Tatchell pan for gold at Sovereign Hill.

Flash in the pan? Opposition Leader Matthew Guy and Liberal candidate for Eureka Paul Tatchell pan for gold at Sovereign Hill.Credit:Callum Goode

“Ah … I can’t give you the figure. I could get that for you.” The answer, provided by Guy a day later, is spending of $28 billion against savings of $38 billion.

Given the Coalition started this campaign needing to win an additional 18 seats to form a majority government, the chances of Matthew Guy becoming premier on Saturday still seem as likely as striking it rich at Sovereign Hill. But then, the opposition leader has only ever been the other Guy in this election.

Everyone knows who the central character of this play is, just not how it will end.

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