Losing one cabinet minister is unfortunate, but seven is just careless

Losing one cabinet minister is unfortunate, but seven is just careless

As we approach the 12-month starter’s gun to the state election, you would expect the opposition to take every opportunity to frame Daniel Andrews as a spent political force.

With that in mind, it came as no surprise that the Coalition desperately tried to link the Premier to allegations aired during a hearing by the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission into the misuse of taxpayer-funded staff and branch-stacking this week.

Premier Daniel Andrews. Credit:Darrian Traynor.

But the Coalition knows that calls for Daniel Andrews to front the public hearing are a tad premature.

That didn’t stop shadow attorney-general and chief spear-thrower for the Coalition, Tim Smith, from muddying the waters and accusing the Premier and his government of having both “a waft” and “a stench of corruption” that, in his view, should be of great concern to all Victorians.

While we can all agree that corruption stinks, there has so far been no allegations that Andrews has misused public funds or misled the public.

The opposition was presented with a second opportunity to smear the Premier last week following reports the state’s anti-corruption body is also examining the Premier’s dealings with the United Firefighters Union.

The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC).

That prompted the Coalition to call on the Premier to resign.

“The former premier of NSW resigned because she was under investigation by ICAC. The Premier of Victoria is under investigation by our anti-corruption commission, IBAC, why hasn’t the Premier stood down?” Smith said.

Smith wasn’t the only one calling for Andrews’ head based on Berejiklian’s decision to stand down after the NSW anti-corruption body ICAC announced it was now broadening its investigation to examine whether she had breached public trust as a result of a “conflict between her public duties and her private interest as a person who was in a personal relationship”.

Should any Victorian anti-corruption probe produce evidence that Andrews breached his duties then the issue of his resignation should no doubt be revisited. Until then, it’s just opportunistic politicking by the Coalition.

Former premier Gladys Berejiklian visits her electoral office in Northbridge, Sydney. Credit:Louise Kennerley

While the opposition may be premature in calling for Andrews to step aside, the latest scandal has presented the Coalition the opportunity to highlight the broader question of ministerial propriety in the Andrews government ahead of the next election.

Andrews has so far dodged the latest anti-corruption probe, but there is no escaping the fact he has lost nine senior Labor MPs from key government roles since forming government

To misquote the great Oscar Wilde, to lose one cabinet minister may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness.

Fittingly, the first minister of the Andrews government to fall was Adem Somyurek who stood down from cabinet in 2015 after his then-chief of staff accused him of bullying, which he denied. A year later Victoria’s Emergency Services Minister Jane Garrett quit following a cabinet dispute over the enterprise bargaining agreement for firefighters.

Andrews’ former Victorian Corrections Minister Steve Herbert was next to fall after he used his taxpayer-funded driver to chauffeur his two dogs around.

In 2017, Labor Speaker Telmo Languiller and his deputy Don Nardella were forced to stand aside after claiming a lucrative “second residence” allowance.

Last year it was the Premier’s own evidence to the hotel quarantine inquiry that triggered the resignation of Health Minister Jenny Mikakos while branch-stacking allegations ended the ministerial careers of Marlene Kairouz, Robin Scott and Luke Donnellan and Adem Somyurek – who was resurrected after his first scandal.

If the loss of two ministers is careless, you have to ask what we should make of seven ministers, a speaker and his deputy falling on their swords in just six years while the Premier remains in the top job relatively unscathed.

Opposition Leader Matthew Guy. Credit:Justin McManus

An effective opposition should be able to mount a very sound argument that such chaos and scandal are perhaps part of a wider culture within the state government.

In John Howard’s first two years as prime minister there were seven resignations in response to scandals. At the time then-opposition leader Kim Beazley used it to successfully attack Howard and his government, framing the prime minister as complacent at best, or worse, incompetent.

"There is no precedent for a government losing three ministers in just a few days. There is absolutely no precedent for a government to lose seven ministers in just 18 months," Beazley quipped in 1996.

As ministers have fallen around him, Daniel Andrews has successfully distanced himself from the chaos and, in many cases, substantial deterioration in ministerial standards.

Hounding Andrews over tenuous links to an anti-corruption probe is premature. The opposition would be better off building the narrative that these resignations point to the greater issue of ministerial accountability and promise higher standards if the Coalition wins the next election.

Annika Smethurst is state political editor.

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