The mood around his election campaign headquarters is somewhat electric.
Staffers are running up and down like headless chooks counting down the days. The hustle and bustle appropriate and fitting to this election battle that both major contenders admit will be a hard one to win.
And in the middle of all this, Daniel Andrews, the caretaker Premier, appears.
His laid-back and serene demeanour is a stark contrast to what goes on around him. Unbeknown to all of us, a week later his calm and cool composure was going to be swiftly evaporated. The Bourke Street terrorist attack shook the city and weakened in the eyes of many Melburnians his argument that Victoria does not have a serious crime issue.
As it surfaced, Bourke Street terrorist Hassan Khalif Shire Ali was on bail when he committed his murderous attack in the city. These revelations, a week before polling day, brought back to the fore the law and order issue, which is the cornerstone of the Opposition’s election sales pitch.
The Premier starts the conversation by complementing Neos Kosmos for its contribution to the community, telling me that he deemed an interview with our newspaper a must while he is holding a printed press release.
“I’ve got something for you,” he says and goes on to announce that, if re-elected, he will institute a ‘Spirit of Democracy Competition’ which each year will see 22 students travel to Greece to learn how the country has shaped politics, culture and thinking across the world. Six of the 22 students will be of Greek heritage.
“Education plays a huge role in shaping a person’s future life and this opportunity will give our next generation an appreciation of our democratic heritage,” he says. “The Greeks have given us democracy, mathematics, philosophy and so much more. This is about sharing this history with young Victorians.”
He goes on to explain that the Prize will be open to all government secondary school students in Years 10, 11 and 12. “Students will be asked to write about democracy, drawing on the learning of classical Greek thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle and the essays will be judged by a panel of eminent Victorians.”
The costing of yet another promise will be in the order of $150,000. Frenetic spending, being towards Labor promises for infrastructure projects, schools, hospitals or community organisations has been the hallmark of this election campaign. The last four years, the property market and the duties paid to state proved to be one of the major cash cows for Victoria’s coffers. The housing market is slowing down, prices are steadily falling. This will certainly translate to less revenue. So will an elected Labor government manage to fulfil its close to $50 billion worth promises if it is re-elected?
“The Department of Treasury and Finance have always been conservative in regards to their forecasts,” he says.
“Commsec announced that Victoria’s is the strongest performing economy in the nation and we are very proud of that, proud of all the different partners that delivered that outcome. There are a lot of new industries, a lot of new investments, but we are very cautious and very careful always to be in surplus always to maintain the AAA credit rating and that’s important.”
The message is clear. Victoria is rich. Not for everyone, though. The Premier accepts the fact that the cost of living is a major issue for many Victorians, not only low income earners or people on social benefits like pensioners and unemployed, but also those in the middle-incomes bracket.
The increasing cost of living is biting the vulnerable. Our pensioners have for sometime asked successive governments to understand their dire circumstances and increase the state concessions rate applied on their utilities bills. I ask him if there are any plans to do so.
His answer isn’t a straight “No”, but in essence it is a “No”.
“We know the cost of living is going up and it’s getting harder to make ends meet,” he says. “That’s why we are helping families and our pensioners with their energy bills installing half price solar panels on the roof of homes. This measure will cut their electricity bills by around $900 a year,” he points out.
PAST AND FUTURE
I mention recent polls indicating Labor will manage to get to the finishing line first and return to Office, after 24 November.
“I take nothing for granted. A handful of votes in some seats might determine the next government,” he says and avoids employing the word optimistic despite the fact that he looks to be in that state of mind, judging by his relaxed body language.
They say that the best poll is the ballot poll, which can sometimes hide a number of surprises for those running for government – and the voters too.
So if Mr Andrews doesn’t manage to win the next election, what does he regard as his major achievements in the past four years?
He is quick to point out the infrastructure blitz.
“It is about living by your values,” he says. “Getting things done. Our government built and is building the infrastructure that we need: road, rail, hospitals, schools, creating jobs, investing in TAFE. We had an ambulance crisis when we came to office, just some days ago we reported the best winter ambulance response times in the history of our state. Why? Because we put more paramedics on, we’ve opened new branches, we’ve bought new vehicles, we’ve bought new technology and we’ve opened new beds in our hospitals. We made a number of commitments, we delivered on them and we went beyond them. We promised and we delivered. That’s our government’s achievements. We ask from people to trust us so we will continue building on that record for the next four years”.
The rumours that Andrews even if his party wins Saturday’s contest, will not stay on to govern Victoria, have been circulating for a while. People need to know though. If they vote for Daniel Andrews, will he be their next full term Premier?
“I love this job. It is a very challenging, but very rewarding job. It is the greatest honour of my life and I am fighting hard to get another four years of strong stable majority Labor government. I’ll serve at the pleasure of the Victorian community. And I will be the leader who will contend the next election for the Labor party,” he asserts.
And at last but not least, what are the people of Victoria voting for, if they vote for Labor?
“They are voting for a positive and optimistic plan that delivers for every single Victorian and keeps us strong and sets us up not just for four years but sets this state up for the medium and longer term”.