Rattle around Spring Street long enough and you’ll soon discover that state governments often prefer their opponents to be in power in Canberra.
That’s not to say Premier Daniel Andrews didn’t “get on the beers” last month when his friend, factional ally and former housemate Anthony Albanese won the election.
Long-time friends Daniel Andrews and Anthony Albanese during the 2022 federal election campaign.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
But Albanese’s win is somewhat of a poisoned chalice for the state Labor government and denies Andrews one of his most powerful weapons. Blame.
Throughout his time at One Treasury Place, Andrews has been blessed with three NSW Liberal prime ministers who he has, often fairly, blamed for a string of problems facing Victorians.
The message was simple; those Sydneysiders just don’t get us.
Andrews has also witnessed how the blurring of state and federal issues can derail election campaigns. He has even benefited from it.
Malcolm Turnbull was one of three NSW prime ministers in office during Daniel Andrews’ time as Victorian premier.Credit:Andrew Meares
Back in 2014, political watchers could be mistaken for thinking then-prime minister Tony Abbott was campaigning for Andrews ahead of the state election.
Six month before polling day, the Abbott government’s first budget, which included cuts to services, a welfare crackdown and a new Medicare co-payment, irreversibly damaged the Liberal Party’s brand.
The premier at the time, Denis Napthine, desperately tried to reassure Victorians he was on their side, despite belonging to the same political party as Abbott. It didn’t work.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Victorian Premier Denis Napthine ahead of the 2014 state electionCredit:Penny Stephens
Fast-forward to 2016, and this time you could be forgiven for thinking Andrews, as premier, was secretly campaigning to keep Malcolm Turnbull in The Lodge given his handling of the CFA pay dispute.
His government’s fight with volunteer firefighters made it almost impossible for wannabe prime minister Bill Shorten to campaign in his own state and is widely believed to have badly damaged his electoral prospects.
As one senior Labor figure quipped at the time, “Malcolm should send Daniel a case of Moet”.
In the more recent “pandemic years”, the Andrews government successfully heaped blame on the Morrison government for everything from its vaccine rollout to infrastructure funding and isolation rules. All in the name of standing up for Victorians.
Former Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Premier Daniel Andrews in 2016.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
It’s a powerful political tool and more often than not, it works.
Now, with his comrade Anthony Albanese in office, Andrews will need to rethink his strategy.
The first test is expected within weeks when Albanese convenes a meeting of the national cabinet. Andrews has been vocal about his desire for more hospital funding and is unlikely to stop blaming Canberra for Victoria’s diabolic health woes ahead of the November poll.
Albanese has acknowledged the pressures hospitals are under but has so far refused to stump up any serious moolah.
And with his Treasurer Jim Chalmers warning of Australia’s dire budget position, it will be almost impossible for Albanese to fix the state’s collapsing hospital system.
Despite this, the Andrews government remains somewhat hopeful the red team in Canberra will offer it a political lifeline and extend the increased health funding for COVID, beyond its September deadline.
After years of complaining about being short-changed on infrastructure funding, the Andrews government is now boasting about having “a true partner in Canberra”, although it is yet to secure everything it wants.
So far, Albanese has only offered up $2.2 billion for the eastern section of the Andrews government’s Suburban Rail Loop, well short of the $11.5 billion it wants. That cash is also expected to hinge on an independent assessment of the plan.
With Albanese in The Lodge, not only has Andrews lost his ability to blame the federal government for his policy problems. He may also be forced to defend Labor’s decisions in the face of surging inflation and rising energy costs.
Despite these challenges, honest brokers from both sides believe Albanese’s gloss is unlikely to wear off before the state election, meaning he will, in the short term at least, remain a political asset to the Andrews government’s re-election campaign.
New Liberal leader Peter Dutton has promised to show voters his softer side.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
This stands in stark contrast to the state opposition which will be working overtime to ensure new Liberal leader Peter Dutton remains north of the Murray River for at least the next six months.
Dutton’s rise is a political headache for Matthew Guy who has barely recovered from the damage his Canberra colleagues caused in 2018 when they rolled Turnbull weeks before the state election.
While Guy insists voters can distinguish between state and federal issues, he knows firsthand they are also willing to punish a state party for federal mistakes.
Pollsters report that Dutton’s net likeability score is in the red.
This has some of the most senior Victorian Liberals worried that the “Dutton factor” will further damage the Liberal Party’s brand in Victoria and will only justify the decisions of thousands of one-time Liberal voters, who abandon the party last month, never to return.
With colleagues in Canberra, who needs enemies.
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