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Hotels debacle is biting Andrews

Both pollsters point out that the Victorian government is enjoying high ratings, just not as high as in other states, and warn that these are not party political surveys.

But it does all point to Andrews and Labor having lost some paint, given the gravity of the hotels scandal, with lives now being lost daily and almost certainly as a direct result of the mismanagement of the quarantine program.

Considering how the stuff-up strikes directly at the heart of Andrews’ political brand, as the man who gets things done, the Premier might even be getting off lightly.

This is not idle political score-counting. Public attitudes matter in this pandemic because the virus can only be effectively fought by communities and governments working together and that requires trust.

This is not idle political score-counting. Public attitudes matter in this pandemic because the virus can only be effectively fought by communities and governments working together, and that requires trust.

Andrews has excelled for much of his time at the top, shrugging off controversies that had Spring Street losing its mind but made little if any impression on the broader community Labor’s “Red Shirts” affair tells the tale. Andrews’ Liberal opponents blew precious money and resources campaigning in the 2018 election on an “issue” that in the end made zero impression on voters.

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But the hotel quarantine scandal is different. Red Shirts didn’t result in five million people being plunged back into lockdown – with maybe worse to come – with all the misery and disruption that entails.

And nobody died as a result of Labor MPs rorting their Parliamentary allowances to boost the party’s chances at the 2014 state election.

The hotels debacle is as serious as it gets and it’s still an unfolding scandal because Andrews and his ministers won’t answer basic questions about what went wrong and when, simply batting away reasonable requests for information in the direction of the hastily convened judicial inquiry into the quarantine program, which won’t report until September.

Victorians are now not welcome anywhere else in Australia and the other state and territory governments haven’t been shy about saying so, although Scott Morrison’s federal government has been broadly supportive.

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The media criticism of the Premier and his ministers has been near universal, even acting as a launch pad for commentary that this might all be the end of Andrews’ leadership, one way or another.

The crisis has intensified the talk, around for while now, that Andrews will simply quit ahead of the next election or even before the year is out. You hear it mostly from people who desperately wish he would.

Nobody knows what’s around the corner, especially after the year we’ve had so far, and the Premier can be a hard man to read. But based on what we do know about Andrews, and his stubborn streak, walking away from the job he clearly cherishes in the midst of the most serious crisis confronting the state since the war would be profoundly out of character.

There are people in the Labor Party who are very unhappy with the government’s handling of the pandemic and they are becoming more vocal. But the complaints, some of them perfectly legitimate, are coming mostly from Andrews’ long-term internal enemies and there is no sign that their ranks are growing.

Adem Somyurek’s “Mods” clique of MPs might have given both a support base and leadership to any emerging insurgency against the Premier and his crisis mini-cabinet, but without the fallen factional strongman, Smoyurek’s old group looks neither willing nor able to make serious trouble for the leader. Besides, self-preservation is always at the forefront of the backbench mind.

Labor people know they retain an extraordinarily dominant electoral position, even with an election still more than two years away, and Andrews, more than any other factor, put them there.

The catastrophic 2018 election loss left the Coalition in historically dire straits. Michael O’Brien’s opposition needs a statewide swing of more than 8 per cent to topple Labor in 2022. The closest anybody has gone to that number in the modern era is Steve Bracks’ 2002 demolition of Robert Doyle’s Liberals on a two-party-preferred swing of 7.6 per cent.

So even as he battles to bring “a sense of control” to the pandemic gripping Melbourne, Andrews remains, for now at least, master of his own political destiny and, importantly, he still sounds confident.

Lots of people, in Victoria and beyond, are justifiably filthy with Daniel Andrews and his government for letting COVID escape from those hotels. But no matter how deeply you feel, one way or another, about the Victorian Premier, it looks like you’re stuck with the bloke for while yet.

Noel Towell is state political editor.

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