Daniel Andrews is beginning his first week back at work at the biggest of Victoria’s big builds and with the energy of a politician about to launch an election campaign.
The $11bn metro tunnel project is running $2.7bn over budget but the major tunnelling work is now complete, and it has just ticked over 30m hours of work.
“This is the biggest public transport project in our state’s history,” the Victorian premier says. “It’s about getting on and creating jobs. It’s about building the projects that every other government said were too hard, they were just too hard to do.”
He is addressing two dozen reporters and camera operators who waited on a wet concrete slab while he went underground and looked at his tunnel.
“We were told by many, ‘You’ll never get that done, that will never, ever happen. that’s all talk,’” he says. "Bien, sí, it did sit on the shelf for a long time, but now it’s a practical reality … it was only fitting that on my first day back I would come and see some of the progress that’s been made here.”
Andrews’ return after four months off recovering from a traumatic back injury was foreshadowed on Sunday with the release of a four-minute video on social media designed to puncture questions about the rumours, given air by the Victorian opposition, which have circulated about his accident.
There is no evidence to support any facts other than those put forward by the premier but that hasn’t stopped the rumours circulating, aerated by the state opposition and repetition by the press keen to set the record straight.
Andrews and his family were staying at a holiday house in Sorrento over the March long weekend, which they rented privately for a week through an online booking site. The outside steps – all three of them – were slippery. His foot slipped, an action Andrews describes in the retelling by shooting his hand forward like an aeroplane. There was “an almighty crunch”. Two members of the premier’s personal protection detail, sworn police officers, were also there. If there were a conspiracy, él dice, it also includes them.
Seven days in hospital and 15 weeks in recovery later, and here we are. At an enormous construction site in the shadow of the salami silos, with a premier who looks better rested than he has since 2019.
After two minutes in which he thanks his healthcare team and the acting premier, James Merlino, Andrews turns it over to questions.
Could the premier have stopped the rumours circulating had he spoken publicly sooner?
No, él dice. “People who make up their own facts, you’re best not really to get into an argument with them. It’s very difficult to win those arguments … never get into an argument with a fool.”
What has he been doing for the past four months? “Getting fit and well” and reading detective books.
Asked for his reaction to the state opposition elevating those rumours to the point of an official press release, Andrews draws on the indifference he has cultivated especially for talking about the Victorian Liberal party.
“I don’t spend much time thinking about those people," él dice. “They’re not relevant to the work I do. And the people of Victoria would not want me to be spending any more time – in fact, really any time at all – thinking about those people.”
Andrews does not want to talk about the opposition. He will talk about not wanting to talk about them at length.
Victorians, él dice, “passed their judgment on that group of individuals a couple of years ago” and will do so again in 2022. Cuando, in case there was any doubt, Andrews will be campaigning for re-election as premier.
“They can be accountable for the questions they ask and the comments they make and the way they conduct themselves," él dice. “And they can be judged accordingly.”
It is “American-style make-up-your-own facts” politics, él dice. Not what anyone would want in Victoria.
The accident isn’t the only topic of discussion. Andrews spares some commentary for the coronavirus vaccine rollout, dicho: “No one can be happy with the way this vaccine has been rolled out.”
He refuses to comment on the response of the New South Wales government to the Sydney outbreak, except to offer help, wish them well, and say the Australian defence force has been requested to stand guard at the Murray River.
He says he hasn’t spoken to the Australian prime minister yet – “I imagine we’ll speak tonight at national cabinet” – but has been texting with the New Zealand prime minister, whom he describes as a “good friend”.
After about half an hour, questions return to his accident. Surely there was something the premier could have done to head off this misinformation campaign?
Andrews becomes frustrated – if he had done a “Hollywood projection every week” updating the community about his recovery rather than focusing on said recovery, that would have been criticised too.
“What fed those rumours is nothing I’ve done," él dice. “What fed those stories is the vile wicked nature of the people who’ve put them round and what’s more the vile behaviour and conduct of those who sought to turn them into a political weapon.”
But that is veering back to talking about irrelevant people again, él dice. Much better to talk about the tunnel.