Nonfiction

Profile: Daniel Andrews

31 October 2012

Few people know who Daniel Andrews is. At first I was going to begin this article with the moniker, “Daniel Who?” But after interviewing Andrews, who is the Victorian State Opposition Leader, I immediately changed my mind.

Two thing strike me about Andrews: he is the sort of down-to-earth friend you could laugh and socialise with at the end of the week; yet he also has a serious side full of determination, focus, and an impatience to seize the chance to lead a Labor government in 2014. Although he plays down concern about his low profile, he doesn’t fashion himself as a dark horse either. He wants to be neither famous nor unknown, that’s why he thinks “Daniel Who?” is trivial. “It doesn’t annoy me. I’m not about being a household name. I’m about delivering good strong policy that actually improves people’s lives. There are a lot of people with very high profiles who perhaps wish they didn’t have one quite so high.” Andrews is the opposite of eccentric–it’s people like him, people who don’t play games, who are likely to get things done in parliament.

Andrews spent his formative years in Glenroy where his father ran a small business. One day a supermarket next door exploded and badly damaged his father’s store. Andrews remembers, “I don’t think anyone ever got charged over it but clearly it was arson. It just flattened the place; it was like a scene from a warzone.” Consequently, they moved to Wangaratta.

One would think that a small business family would be inclined to vote Liberal. However, Andrews says he grew up in a very progressive household with many debates around the kitchen table. With this progressiveness came social responsibility, not entitlement. Andrews reflects, “the key message that we got as kids was that those who have done well through hard work have a clear obligation to support those who do it tough.”

After completing Year 12 in Wangaratta, Andrews enrolled at Monash University and went to live at Mannix College. He quips about the Clayton campus, “it’s a bit concrete, it’s a bit grey, doesn’t quite have the charm of the University of Melbourne”. His time there was worthwhile though, “there’s all these wonderful clichés that university is a great time to work out what your journey will be and who you are, but I think they are true. We have to try and not lose sight of that”.

True to his pragmatic character he doesn’t let politics determine who he is. He thinks it is silly to restrict one’s friendship groups to those of similar political views or occupations. “I’ve got a wide circle of friends who are nowhere near the Victorian parliament and inside the Spring Street bubble. My politics is very important to me but it doesn’t define me to the point where because I’m a Labor party person I couldn’t have a friendship with somebody from the other side of politics. I think we’d all like to operate on a broader and better level than that.”

He completed his studies with a double major in Politics and Classical Studies. After a string of student jobs he ended up in the Labor party proper and has remained in the political and parliamentary process ever since.

Andrews still bears in mind his classical studies. “It’s funny isn’t it; people assume that if you study politics that would help you in politics. People ascribe a link between academic pursuits and the practice of certain things. It’s not always that way. I’m not a classics scholar, but it was as much about history as anything. Many of those lessons are just as relevant now.”

We begin to discuss Andrews’ recent career. Listening to him I’m quickly reminded of some classical philosophy. The Romans believed people could simply draw a line in the sand to divide the future from the past and start anew. This is just what Andrews has done since taking over leadership from John Brumby after his defeat by Ted Baillieu in 2010. He has maintained party unity and a positive agenda and stood well clear of playing the ‘blame game’ with the Brumby government’s purported mistakes.

The fact there hasn’t been a one-term state government in Victoria since 1955 doesn’t play on his mind. “You’ve got to be positive about it. My aim is that we have to make 2014 the best contest that it can be. It’s up to the Victorian community who wins and whether history is made. My job is to make sure that they’ve got a credible alternative.”

One aspect of the ALP alternative to the Baillieu government is Andrews’ support of gay marriage. Raised a Catholic and still identifying as one, Andrews says, “I wouldn’t ask people to vote for me because of my faith and upbringing. It’s not for me to be a Catholic leader of the Labor party. It’s about being someone who in a secular society can still have a sense of fairness, justice and decency”. However, he doesn’t always find it easy reconciling his Catholicism with his support for gay marriage. “Politics isn’t easy. There are issues that confront you all the time.”

Sometimes Andrews finds that his political views may align with the values of his church but this is not the primary motivator in his political decisions. “You’ve got to apply your own values but at the same time be true to your responsibility to represent your constituency, or, in my role, to represent a much broader spectrum than perhaps my own personal view. Sorry, that’s the wrong way to put it. These are my personal views, they sometimes align with a set of rules and regulations that belong to a church, my responsibility is to be a bit broader than that.”

This same pragmatism is shown when he stresses that Labor shouldn’t be considered unfashionable because, unlike the Greens, the party understands the need for compromise. “Fashions come and go. For 120 years the most powerful people in this nation have worked very hard to do away with the Labor party but they have failed. Equally, those on the very indulgent extreme left, those who are not about outcomes, they won’t see us off either.”

However, Andrews emphasises that the focus of the net two years will be about attacking the Baillieu government and not the Greens. The Liberals only hold a one seat majority and Andrews is confident the public is growing increasingly dissatisfied with the Premier.

Andrews is cynical about Baillieu’s self-proclaimed libertarianism. “I think that Mr Baillieu would like to have the Victorian community think that he was a small ‘I’ liberal, that he was the sort of progressive amongst conservatives. But again, it’s words versus deeds. I don’t think at a time when nearly one in five young Victorians can’t find a job that hacking into TAFE is a particularly progressive thing to do. Look at what’s going on in the United States at the moment where 99 per cent of the presidential election is about how big government’s bad. We see a bi of that here. It’s all this nonsense about ‘oh if we can just get out of peoples way’ which in so many ways is a cop out. If you have faith in the government to empower people then you’ve got to be about outcomes and not just words and principles.”

This is the admirable side of Andrews’ pragmatism. Although some observers argue that he caters too much to factional interests within the party, at the end of the day he is in this job to get reforms passed. He doesn’t care about flamboyant rhetoric or his image in a day and age where political personality sometimes plays a larger role than policy, this is refreshing. However, Andrews’ sound left wing ethics need more articulation for Labor to win the 2014 election. Pragmatism is a good quality in a political leader but the ability to inspire a community is also needed.


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