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OPINION | Make memories, for Dan: COVID-normal politics begin

state politics
Article image for OPINION | Make memories, for Dan: COVID-normal politics begin

By JAMES TALIA

Suddenly there was bright sunshine, a warm temperature and permission to go anywhere in Victoria. Monday could not have been more different from the depths of the winter lockdown.

For those Melburnians who were able to stay healthy and employed through those dark months, days like these will help the lockdown memories fade.

Daniel Andrews will be hoping they fade quickly.

On Sunday, when Mr Andrews announced we would no longer need papers to drive from city to country, he did so in front of a white backdrop of hope, replacing what had become known on Spring Street as the Purple Wall of Doom.

The Premier’s political fightback has already started. It starts with days of zero new cases, sunshine – even a new press conference background.

We’re also now seeing less of him.

None of this is an accident. Daily press conferences in front of that purple background in the Treasury Theatre undoubtedly served a valid purpose – communicate with the people, do so directly through live broadcasts, and appear strong and reassuring.

But to keep doing it as case numbers improved would be counter-productive, a subtle reminder of the bad days.

So last week there was a switch to COVID-normal politics: Jacinta Allan at a level crossing removal site without Mr Andrews; a Metro tunnel presser deep beneath Swanston Street; even a trip to Werribee Zoo.

Later this month a blockbuster budget will be delivered, with eye-watering spending on projects large and small, and a focus on job creation and progressive goals. It will be crafted so just about every Victorian community gets a prize.

This is a political path as much as it is a road to pandemic recovery.

When Mr Andrews declared over and again through winter that he wasn’t the least bit interested in politics he was, to an extent, playing politics.

The public health decisions may not have been made for political reasons but that doesn’t mean there was no consideration given to their political implications. This premier is as ruthless a political operator as exists in Victoria. He knows no other way.

On the harshest reading, Mr Andrews leads a government that oversaw failures that ultimately resulted in 800 deaths, tens of thousands of job losses, and untold numbers of business failures yet to be fully realised.

Many Victorians will wonder how it is possible to come back from that politically, much less win the next election almost exactly two years from now.

This is how: The appearance of business as usual, virus numbers under control, massive pump-priming of the economy, a steadily-falling jobless rate and, somewhere in there, a vaccine.

The recent Nine/Age Ipsos poll found that 50 per cent of those surveyed thought the government’s hotel quarantine program was the cause of the second COVID-19 wave.

That only half of those asked would blame the government baffled some people, not least Liberal MPs. They should look at themselves to find part of the answer. They have been unable to prosecute the case against opponents who made grave errors.

That means Mr Andrews and his government have a foundation for another winning run. When he leads the Labor Party to the next election – there is little internal appetite for leadership change – he will be hoping to do so in much the same way as he crafted his 2018 landslide win.

He will do all he can to be seen to be doing things, building things, hiring frontline workers to make everyone’s lives better.

Bad memories of 2020 can play no part in that.

So as you get out and drive around our beautiful state putting money in the pockets of accommodation providers and publicans and restaurateurs, enjoy it.

But know that Daniel Andrews desperately needs you to have the time of your life, and make some new memories.

  • James Talia is 3AW’s state political reporter

Picture by Diego Fedele/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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