Victoria and New South Wales’ premiers, Daniel Andrews and Domenico Perrotte, couldn’t be more different: one is a progressive from Labor’s socialist left faction and the other a conservative from the Liberal party’s right.
But together, they represent a political vibe shift – a sense that long-term ambitions for their states can be achieved, with cooperation paramount.
Both men are shrewd politicians. The duo sensed the public’s fatigue with the hyper-partisan politics of the pandemic early on, and worked together to progressively ease Covid restrictions. They have since gone on to push for ambitious reforms to health funding, tax and education in their states.
Finora, they have been successful.
At Anthony Albanese’s first national cabinet meeting on Friday, the prime minister heeded their calls to increase its share of hospital funding until the end of the year. Perrottet described the meeting as “refreshingly collaborative”.
A day earlier, Andrews and Perrottet’s joint statement of intention to introduce a year of universal preschool within the decade was also well received, including by their oppositions.
Dr Geoffrey Robinson, a senior politics lecturer at Deakin University, thinks there’s a new dynamic at play. He says the recent federal election was an emphatic rejection of former prime minister Scott Morrison and his leadership style.
“The cooperative, nonpartisan aspect [of the Andrews-Perrottet relationship], that plays very well with voters who – at the federal election – supported independents largely because they rejected that sort of hyper-partisan style that the Morrison government pursued,” Robinson said.
Durante un post-election speech at the National Press Club this week, Labor’s national secretary, Paul Erickson, the architect of Albanese’s victory, echoed the sentiment.
Erickson credits Albanese’s offer of a “better future” in contrast with “three more years of Scott Morrison” as the argument that secured the victory.
He said voters were left alienated by Morrison and the Coalition, who showed “hubris and mindless partisanship” when they attacked Labor governments in Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia.
The differences between Andrews and Perrottet are part of their success. Their partnership blunts any political attacks at a state level and at a federal level it allows them more bargaining power.
When the leaders of the two most populous states come together, Albanese is forced to listen. E, in the spirit of consensus, so far he has.
The partnership also provides a new opportunity for two old governments, Robinson said. Andrews is seeking a third term, while the Coalition in NSW is seeking a fourth.
“We’ve got two state governments, both of which are probably sort of showing their age and have got to that stage where problems are starting to accumulate,” Robinson says.
“So it’s good for them to be demonstrating a collaborative, proactive approach to addressing the problems.”
A senior Victorian Labor source says they are aware of the challenges involved with securing another term. They say the federal and South Australian elections had proved incumbent governments cannot rest on their records.
"[Steven] Marshall went to the election without a plan for the future, he said ‘vote for me because I got you through the pandemic’. Morrison was promising more of the same,” the source says.
“You need big ideas, a plan for a future, a reform agenda that makes voters want to put their faith in you. Both Daniel and Dom are similar in that sense because they have big ideas; they want to change their states for the better.”
They also note Perrottet’s willingness to work with Andrews as proof the Victorian premier “isn’t as polarising as the state Liberals think".
In an interview with Guardian Australia, Andrews revealed he first reached out to Perrottet in October last year when the then NSW treasurer replaced Gladys Berejiklian as premier, at the urging of former prime minister Paul Keating.
“After [Perrotte] became premier, Paul rang me and said, ‘oh, you should reach out, he is serious about doing some things’, and I said, 'OK, no worries’, so of course I did, and it went well,” Andrews said.
“We don’t necessarily agree on everything, but we get along well, in that he’s focused on outcomes and trying to leave the place better than he found it and there’s no shortage of challenges to tackle.”
Voters will be watching to see what they tackle together next.