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For someone who has been heralded as a star of Spring Street since she arrived as a 26-year-old in 1999 and became Victoria’s youngest minister at 29, the state’s new premier Jacinta Allan is hardly a household name.
Unusual, perhaps, given that politicians trade on public recognition. Many go to great lengths to distinguish themselves from the parliamentary pack. But for Allan, an active minister who has long been Andrews’ anointed successor, there is a surprising level of unfamiliarity.
After 24 years in parliament, Jacinta Allan is surprisingly unfamiliar.Credit: Justin McManus
It might have something to do with her character. In a July 2022 profile with The Age’s state political editor Annika Smethurst, Allan described herself as a bookish person akin to Harry Potter’s Hermione Granger. Her colleagues described her as diligent, dutiful and pragmatic, even boring. Others painted her as an abrasive partyroom brawler with few friends. Bureaucrats in her departments spoke of regular grillings from a minister who had done her homework.
At public appearances, she is notoriously inscrutable. Her delivery is careful, guarded. Journalists often return to the office frustrated after attending one of her press conferences without any revelations of note to share with the public regarding any of the major projects she has overseen as minister.
The sense of unfamiliarity might also have something to do with the fact that in recent years, Allan and most of her Labor colleagues have been politically indistinguishable from their leader. So unified and centralised was the government of Daniel Andrews – to great political effect – that it was often impossible to recognise any point of difference between his politics and that of his colleagues.
Even someone of Allan’s stature within the party – a senior minister and deputy premier with high-profile portfolios and a Bendigo backstory – was not able to bloom under the Andrews oak tree.
“Comparisons are inevitable,” Allan said this week when asked how she would differentiate herself from Andrews. Such comparisons have been made inevitable by the fact that Allan has been the picture of a loyal lieutenant to Andrews, revealing nothing publicly that qualified as anything close to dissent or disagreement.
Loyalty itself is a valuable trait too often underestimated. No one agrees with their boss, or anyone else for that matter, on every decision they make. To practise loyalty is to demonstrate resolve, determination and an acknowledgment of a good greater than personal gain. If guided by a sound moral compass, these are the traits of leaders, not followers.
So what kind of leader will Jacinta Allan be? And will she lead the government in a new direction or follow in the electorally successful path of her predecessor?
Allan dropped a few clues on Thursday, her first full day as premier, about some of her early priorities. Easing cost-of-living pressures through changes to school programs and public health services was the early tip, but, true to form, she wasn’t giving a lot away with her words. Her irrepressible smile, however, told everyone exactly how she felt about fielding questions as premier.
The smile on Allan’s face on Thursday revealed exactly how she felt about being Victoria’s 49th premier.Credit: Con Chronis
Any cost-of-living relief will need to be balanced against Victoria’s rampaging debt, the worst of any state in the country. There is some irony, of course, in being arguably Australia’s highest taxing state while exploring cost-of-living relief measures. Add to that the complication that the government is marching ahead with the electorally popular but eye-wateringly expensive Suburban Rail Loop – a project Allan has overseen in the early stages. The housing crisis too, as the new premier acknowledged on Thursday, requires urgent attention.
How she deals with looming problems could define her leadership.
These issues are not entirely the fault of Allan, but they are now hers to manage. And after multibillion-dollar cost blowouts on major projects she was responsible for, and the expensive cancellation of the Commonwealth Games she was tasked with delivering, she will be eager to demonstrate fiscal prudence and the ability to deliver on ambitious promises.
Cost-of-living relief is a vote-winner, if you listen to the pollsters, and undoubtedly needed by many doing it tough. Budget repair, on the other hand, is not such potent electoral catnip. It is, however, the right thing to do for Victoria’s long-term prosperity. Meaningful action to cut spending and address the state’s debt would send a clear message about which way Allan’s moral compass was pointing.
The new premier will also need to address integrity problems that plagued the Andrews government. Stemming the flow of damning findings by anti-corruption agencies would be a good start.
Many will tell Allan what they think she should do in the coming weeks. But as a capable politician renowned for her thorough preparation, and who has known she was destined for this job, she will have had her priorities mapped out for some time. The Age wishes her well. Strong leadership in the coming years will be critical to Victoria’s success.
Few leaders elected by the party, rather than by the people, start their term with the political capital that Allan possesses. This provides her with the freedom to think big and be an agent of profound change in Victoria that will be felt for generations to come. We encourage her to accept that challenge.
In three years’ time, when the next state election arrives, you can be certain we’ll know a lot more about Jacinta Allan.
The “other premiership” will be decided at the MCG tomorrow.Credit: Getty Images
I’m conscious that Spring Street won’t be the only place a premiership is decided this week. To everyone following the showdown at the MCG tomorrow, I wish you the most enjoyable of days.
To all those Collingwood supporters who have gloated their way through the past few months, making life completely, absolutely insufferable for all others, I wish you luck. Mostly because I couldn’t bear to listen to the groaning that would accompany a loss.
And to the Fitz … sorry, Brisbane Lions and their supporters here and up north: if you’re going to win, please make sure the margin is sufficiently large to prevent the Pies from blaming the loss on umpiring decisions.
Patrick Elligett sends an exclusive newsletter to subscribers each week. Sign up to receive his Note from the Editor.
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