Daniel Andrews’s fate was sealed on Wednesday October 6, 2021. That’s when the “Age” reported that the Victorian Premier was being investigated by the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) regarding the United Firefighters Union.
The IBAC’s “Operation Richmond” is regarding the United Firefighters Union. Then the Premier’s name was mentioned during the state’s second IBAC hearings, this time into ALP branch stacking which began five days later, on Monday October 11, 2021.
The IBAC’s Operation Watts looked at ALP branch stacking and on its first day of hearing on Monday 11 October 2021, it claimed the scalp of the Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers, and the Minister for Child Protection, Luke Donnellan, who resigned from the ministry.
Members of parliament know they have two options when they find out their state’s anti-corruption body is investigating them: Stand aside or resign.
Former NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, knew it. She couldn’t stand aside as the Premier and go to the backbench while her state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) held its investigations. So, on the morning of Friday 1 October 2021, when it was revealed her state’s anti-corruption body was investigating her, including whether she breached public trust regarding the granting of community grants awarded between 2012 and 2018, she left NSW politics altogether.
In Victoria, “Operation Watts’s” final report was released on 20 July 2022. But sometime before, on Thursday 28 April, the “Age” revealed the findings of IBAC’s draft report on “Operation Watts”. The newspaper reported that IBAC had “secretly grilled” Mr Andrews and the draft report’s interim findings outlined an unethical culture across all ALP factions that was systematic and had gone on for decades.
Then eight days later on Friday 6 May, “The Australian” exclusively reported that IBAC had secretly interviewed Mr Andrews in relation to a third IBAC investigation. Named “Operation Sandon”, this IBAC investigation looked at property developers’s relationship to Casey Council, in Melbourne’s south-east, and property developer links to ALP MPs and planning matters.
Then on Thursday November 3 , 23 days before 2022’s November 26 state election, The Age reported that there was a fourth IBAC investigation involving the Premier. Named “Operation Daintree”, the previously unreported investigation was said to be looking at a health union receiving millions from the government to run a training program.
But the tom-toms had been beating louder about Mr Andrews’s tenure as premier for some time. Some Victorians thought he should have resigned in 2020 following the botched hotel quarantine program. Instead, the government set up the COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry. In closing submissions on Monday September 28, 2020, counsel assisting said the failure of the hotel quarantine program had led to the death of 768 people and 18,418 infections.
Yet, after 25 days of hearings, 63 witnesses, the then Minister for Health, Jenny Mikakos, being forced to resign and the hearing costing $6 million, the public still did not know who decided to hire private security to guard quarantine hotels. The irony of Victoria’s botched hotel quarantine program that used private security guards was that it occurred while the government was conducting a review of the private security industry, announced by Mr Andrews, in October 2018. Some of the review’s aims were to raise industry standards, training, compliance and employment practices. The review was released in December, 2021. (For further information go to “Review of the Private Security Industry”, December 2021.)
Others questioned whether Mr Andrews would return as Premier after his serious fall on the Mornington Peninsula, in 2021, announced on 9 March of that year. Mr Andrews was laid off work for 111 days. This was the exact number of days Melbourne was in lockdown during the second wave, between 9 July and 27 October, 2020.
Mr Andrews did return as premier. But not much had changed when he did. Mr Andrews’s style remained and the lockdowns persisted. In 2020, the Premier was more authoritative in his daily press conferences, telling Victorians what to do. He put fear into us. He did give praise where praise was due, like to the front-line health professionals and Melburnians’ resilience in the face of hard lockdown. But, mostly he came across as a preacher.
Most Victorians in 2020 were happy with this style and his handling of the pandemic and declared #IStandWithDan. Others thought this overall style was more “Dictator Dan”. But, if his style served him well in the first year of the pandemic, in 2020, it was going to be a different story in the second year, in 2021. Victorians, particularly Melburnians, living through the pandemic’s second year were changed. In 2021, they were more knowledgeable about the COVID-19 virus and questioned why Victoria was always being locked down faster, harder and more often than any other state, including Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales.
Melburnians were also exhausted from actually being locked down. Then Melbourne even started breaking world records for the most locked down place in the world since the pandemic started, in March 2020. When the curfew ended and the sixth lockdown (although still with some restrictions and rules) was lifted, on 22 October 2021, Melbourne had clocked up 262 days in hard lockdown – a world record.
It was not lost on many Victorians, that the sixth lockdown was initially announced as a snap seven-day lockdown, on 5 August 2021. It was then extended to avoid the virus spreading like in NSW . But, on Thursday 14 October 2021, eight days before the sixth lockdown ended, Victoria broke her own and the nation’s record by registering 2297 new locally-acquired cases in a single day.
Many Victorians stopped believing Mr Andrews’s rhetoric. He had since March 2020 to get COVID-19 under control. Yet, it was 2021, and Victorians were still in and out of lockdown and curfew, and chasing yet another road map out of both.
Victoria just couldn’t seem to get out of lockdown. The highly-anticipated road map out of lockdown announced on 19 September 2021 amounted to being a plan, about a plan, to get the state out of lockdown 37 days later, on 26 October. (That date was later brought forward to 22 October.)
Then, overnight, on Monday 20 September 2021, Mr Andrews shutdown virtually all the construction industry for two weeks after a spike in COVID-19 cases on some construction sites that were still operating. As a result, there was a marathon eight-and-a-half hour protest the next day, on Tuesday 21 September 2021.
Other protests followed that week, including to the Shrine of Remembrance on Wednesday 22 September when a magnitude 6 earthquake hit Melbourne, at about 9.10am. There were also protests leading up to the big September 21 protest with rallies on Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 September, and actually on the Monday 20 September.
Between late September and early October 2021, the Premier further announced mandatory vaccinations for authorised workers, including in the construction industry, and set deadlines.
Some, however, observed Mr Andrews’s style had changed for the better after his return from his accident. There were his “shout outs” to the hard working health professionals and to Victorians who lined-up to get tested and vaccinated.
At his press conference on 10 October 2021, Mr Andrews was sounding positive. He told the media the state was on track to reach the 70 per cent double-dose vaccination target by 26 October, spoke about the “vaccinated economy trials” in regional areas, how we were going “to normalise this virus” and how we would open up the state. He announced a live event for the double-vaccinated, at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, on Saturday 30 October 2021.
“On 2 November (upto) 10,000 fans will be able to attend the Melbourne Cup,” he told the media. He said there would be many more announcements like these. He said he was “so, so proud” of Victorians.
“It’s humbling to see so many acts of kindness,” Mr Andrews said.
“The numbers (of vaccinations) are terrific. The numbers are great every single day.”
But the IBAC cloud was never far away. The IBAC hearing into branch stacking began the next day on Monday 11 October 2021. It claimed its first scalp within hours, when the Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers and the Minister for Child Protection, Luke Donnellan, resigned as minister amid claims of breaching party membership rules.
For days after the Premier did not attend the daily press conferences. He headed the daily press conference again, on Sunday 17 October, to tell the nation that Victoria and Melbourne had done so well with getting vaccinated that lockdown would lift and the curfew end four days earlier than the roadmap, on Friday 22 October.
Mr Andrews was smiling, positive and congratulatory. “I’m proud of Victoria. I’m grateful to Victorians,” he said.
“Victorians have done so well.”
Mr Andrews was confident any future lockdowns would be “targeted” localised lockdowns, in line with the national plan.
Then, four days after Victoria’s sixth lockdown was lifted, the Premier announced what many considered to be an own goal. On 26 October 2021, he announced he wanted to introduce new lockdown and pandemic laws .
The initial “Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021, ” sidelined the state’s chief health officer (CHO) and gave greater powers to politicians. Among other things, the original bill meant that the premier of the day could declare a pandemic and the health minister issue pandemic orders.
It also involved possible exorbitant fines and jail for intentional and reckless breaches. The draft legislation lead to protests and the Coalition Opposition, legal bodies and the Victorian Ombudsman, Deborah Glass, all raised concerns about the bill.
But again, the IBAC clouds were forming. On Monday November 8, 2021, the IBAC hearing into branch stacking resumed and former ALP minister and MP turned independent, Adem Somyurek, told the hearing Mr Andrews knew about Labor’s “red shirts” being used for non-electorate work. Mr Somyrek later that week told the hearing Mr Andrews knew about branch stacking within the ALP.
Then on November 18 , Mr Somyurek, who had attended parliament only once since the ALP kicked him out of the party amid branch stacking allegations in June 2020, wrote an exclusive opinion piece in the “Herald Sun” under the headline, “Abuse of power is a real risk”.
In it, he criticised Mr Andrews’s lack of MP consultation regarding the pandemic bill and stated the bill “is a bad idea because it gives too much power to the Government”. He said he would return to the Legislative Council and vote against the bill effectively delaying the bill’s passing.
The three crossbench MPs in the upper house the government counted on to pass the bill were now not enough and the government withdrew the bill. It then courted a fourth crossbencher and was forced to make amendments to the bill.
Tens of thousands of Victorians marched to Parliament House opposed to the bill on 20 November 2021. Protesters waved placards, Daniel Andrews’s effigies and national flags – including the Australian and Greek flags. Protests objecting to the way the pandemic had been handled were held in other Australian states. The Andrews’s Government ultimately secured the vote of a fourth crossbencher and the new pandemic legislation passed the upper house after 21 hours of continuous debate on 1 December 2021.
Mr Andrews’s days as premier were numbered once his name was first mentioned as part of an IBAC hearing, on Wednesday October 6, 2021. Securing Labor an historic third term the following year – despite the political odds and the large dissatisfaction with his pandemic response – could not have saved Daniel Andrews no matter how much he and the Labor faithful hoped it would.
Dora Houpis is a regular contributor and worked for the ALP from 1998 to 2003, including in the Premier’s Private Office, during former Premier, Steve Bracks’, first term. She is currently a freelance journalist.