How Daniel Andrews oversaw a divided year
“Today’s a good day,” Premier Daniel Andrews tweeted on October 26 as Victoria recorded its first day with zero new coronavirus cases since the second wave brought the state to a standstill and cost hundreds of lives.
“Said I’d go a little higher up the shelf. Here’s to you, Victoria,” he added next to an image of a pair of whisky glasses and a $120 bottle of Starward.
The post was not meant to be controversial — it was a celebration of the hard work every Victorian (well, most) had put in to flattening a curve that most countries in similar situations were never able to.
But it wasn’t viewed that way. The response was indicative of the way Victorians had reacted to the Premier throughout the pandemic — a heated, divided response.
“Yep 1000s deaths, job losses, business closures, bankruptcies (sic), job losses and untold suffering. Well done,” one person tweeted in response.
“Toasting the deep suffering of the Victorian people seems a rather 19th Century elitist thing to do,” another wrote.
The anger that many felt — and still feel — towards the Premier has been a trademark of 2020. It has been fuelled by a relentless Liberal Opposition in Victoria spearheaded by Kew MP Tim Smith and Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien.
He has been labelled a “Dictator” for locking down Victoria and introducing measures many viewed far stricter than what was required to keep the virus away.
He has been blamed for the outbreak in hotel quarantine that led to the second wave and the deaths of 800 people.
RELATED: Virus expert debunks biggest COVID-19 vaccination myth
He was hauled before an inquiry to answer questions about how the virus escaped — but the Health Minister Jenny Mikakos would eventually take the fall for that one, even if Mr Andrews declared he would “take full responsibility” for shortcomings in the failed program.
International media picked up on the anger, too.
The Washington Post most notably reported on clashes between anti-maskers and police at Queen Victoria Market.
The paper’s morning print edition featured a photograph of heavily armed Victoria Police officers in riot gear among the fruit and vegetable stalls, accompanied by the headline: “Australia’s virus ‘dictator’ still wins hearts.”
Speaking to reporters the following day, Mr Andrews said, bluntly, “I don’t read the Washington Post.” He said he was not interested “in name calling”.
But there’s no doubt he heard plenty of it during a tumultuous year. During a low point for the Opposition, of which there were many, Mr Smith called the Premier “a friendless loser”.
But for all the dissatisfied Victorians who mounted a stance against Mr Andrews this year, there were just as many who rallied behind him.
He is as popular as ever with his core support base and he has won over many with his distinct, no nonsense approach to defeating the virus.
For more than 100 days he fronted up to press conferences where he was peppered with questions about hotel quarantine failures and tightening restrictions and how much responsibility he should take for a mounting death toll, especially in aged care.
And his demeanour never wavered, nor did he shirk responsibility for answering questions. On more than a handful of occasions, as reporters jostled for the next question, he reminded them calmly that he would be there until there were no more questions.
He took the full force of Federal Government pressure to reopen, too. The Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Health Minister Greg Hunt were particularly vocal in their criticism of Victoria’s lockdown.
RELATED: When Australia will get the vaccine
But in the end it worked. As many experts, including Deakin University Chair of Epidemiology Professor Catherine Bennett pointed out, nowhere else in the world achieved what Victoria did by defeating a second wave that at one point peaked at more than 720 cases in a single day.
As the Prime Minister Scott Morrison rightly pointed out, “Victorians came through against all odds”.
In a statement in early December, Mr Andrews summed up what Victorians had achieved during a year which are all too happy to see the end of.
“Week after week, change and change, we adapted, and readapted,” he said.
“But we did it, because it meant keeping our state safe.
“Because of the efforts of every Victorian, we’re able to end this year with far fewer limits on what we can and can’t do.”
It’s COVID-normal, as the Premier likes to call it. It’s not what everybody wants, but it’s far better than the alternative. Victorians need only look abroad to places like the US, Britain, Italy and now South Korea, which is experiencing a crippling third wave.
Too many lives were lost this year in Victoria, but countless numbers were saved. It’s possible to acknowledge the former while also being thankful for the latter.