Factions, new blood and Jeff Kennett: Daniel Andrews’ dilemma after losing four ministers

A lot of comparisons can made between Victorian premiers Daniel Andrews and Jeff Kennett, wel, being from opposite sides of politics, neither of them will likely admit it.

Both are considered crash-through leaders, either loved or loathed. Both have shaped their state, either for better or worse – depending on whom you ask.

En, as they sought a third term in office, both lost several of their senior ministers before the election.

Four of Andrews’ key ministers – the deputy premier, James Merlino, the health minister, Martin Foley, the police minister, Lisa Neville, and the minister for tourism, sport and major events, Martin Pakula – on Friday confirmed they will retire at the November election.

“I just knew in my heart I don’t have the fuel in the tank for another term,” Merlino told reporters on Friday.

All four were in the cabinet’s eight-person crisis council set up at the start of the pandemic, highlighting their seniority. Their announcements follow those of former attorney general Jill Hennessy and the planning minister, Richard Wynne, who are also retiring at the election.

Gekombineer, these six MPs have more than 100 years of parliamentary experience.

ABC election analyst Antony Green said the departures leave Andrews in a similar position to Kennett, who at the 1999 election saw six of his most senior ministers retire before his Coalition government suffered a shock loss.

“Kennett lost his treasurer, health minister and attorney general, among other senior people in his cabinet. It meant all the focus was on him during the campaign – he famously banned his cabinet from debating their opposition counterparts – and that wasn’t a good thing,” Green told Guardian Australia.

“He also made the great mistake of running a what they call a bandwagon campaign instead of underdog campaign. He was incredibly confident they would win. Whereas the 1996 campaign was much more restrained, in 1999 he was unleashed.”

But Green notes a key difference: Andrews is set to swear in a new cabinet as early as Monday.

As Monash University politics lecturer Dr Zareh Ghazarian put it: “With five months to go, it gives the government a bit of fresh air, a clean slate and an opportunity for the new ministers to impose themselves.”

Ghazarian doesn’t think we’ll see a repeat of 1999, but admits “anything is possible”.

“Labor still is in a very strong position. They performed very strongly in 2018, so the Coalition has a lot of ground to make – they are coming from a fair way back,” Ghazarian said.

Speaking at a press conference after the four MPs announced their retirements on Friday, Andrews described their departures as “opportunities for renewal”.

“I’m not concerned about it because I know we’ve got the depth, the talent, the energy, the passion to do the work and give Victorians a positive and optimistic plan," hy het gesê.

Several sources say the impending cabinet reshuffle will also tighten Andrews’ grip on Victorian Labor, which was taken over by the federal party in 2020 na allegations of branch stacking against the right’s factional leader, Adem Somyurek.

Somyurek was dumped from cabinet and quit the party, while his allies Luke Donnellan, Marlene Kairouz and Robin Scott resigned from the frontbench.

Following Somyurek’s exit from the party, parts of the right – including the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association and former senator Stephen Conroy’s faction – signed a stability pact with the left. But the deal left MPs aligned with the Australian Workers’ Union and National Union of Workers factions with diminished internal power.

They say it is only because of the fractured state of the right that Andrews was able to break with tradition and call for his factional ally, the transport infrastructure minister, Jacinta Allan, to become deputy premier.

He was supported by the last remaining senior right faction member, the treasurer, Tim Pallas.

Deur dit te doen, Andrews has all but anointed Allan as his successor, though he shot down rumours he would depart midway through the next cycle if elected.

“I didn’t get well to get out, I got well to get back to do the work, to finish what we’ve started,”Het Andrews gesê.

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