Battle to replace Daniel Andrews began while he was resigning

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Premier Daniel Andrews was announcing his resignation after nine years of leading Victoria through a massive infrastructure program and the COVID-19 pandemic when the factional battle began among Labor MPs over whether he would be replaced by his deputy, Jacinta Allan.

One of Australia’s most recognisable and influential political figures will leave his job on Wednesday afternoon after surprising voters by quitting after more than two decades in state parliament.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews with Deputy Premier Jacinta Allan and Tourism Minister Steve Dimopoulos after the premier’s resignation on Tuesday.Credit: Joe Armao

Labor MPs held factional meetings late on Tuesday night to decide whether frontrunner Allan will sail through as the state’s 49th premier or face a bruising internal battle to become just the second woman to lead Victoria.

Andrews said it wasn’t an easy decision to resign but said he had reached the conclusion that “it’s time”.

“Doing this job requires a lot, not just of the person whose name is on the door. It requires a lot of the people that you love,” Andrews said.

“You owe it to the people you love, to the people you serve, and frankly, you owe it to yourself to make the difficult but important decision to move on and give somebody else the amazing privilege to work hard every day for the people of this great state.”

The outgoing premier was joined by members of his staff as well as his wife Cath and sons Noah and Joseph at Parliament House for the announcement. Cabinet colleagues congregated as Andrews called time on his political career, with some MPs wearing dark glasses to hide their emotion as he said he wanted to leave before he came to resent the role.

“I am worse than a workaholic. Every waking moment is about the work. And there’s only so long you can do that,” he said.

“You never want to get to a place where you resent this job, this amazing privilege.”

His leadership will formally come to an end at 5pm on Wednesday. His resignation will also force a byelection for voters in Mulgrave. Andrews had repeatedly said he would stay until the 2026 election but on Tuesday said he had recently changed his mind about his political future.

The Age has spoken to more than a dozen senior Labor figures who said the leadership was Allan’s to lose, but the carve-out of positions below her could decide whether the party breaks out into all-out war.

Calls about the leadership began while Andrews’ press conference was still underway and MPs departed from the event in factional groupings. “WhatsApp made some good traffic,” a Labor source said.

Allan, tasked with overseeing Victoria’s Big Build of major projects, has been considered the premier-in-waiting since last year when the resignation of six ministers prompted a reshuffle that saw her named as deputy.

But factional leaders within Labor’s right are prepared to force a ballot, which would see party members given a say in who leads Victoria, if they are not happy with the process.

Both Allan, who is of the left, and Public Transport Minister Ben Carroll, of the right, were calling MPs on Tuesday to sound out their support.

Under party rules, if more than one person nominates for leader the position will be decided based on a caucus vote and a vote of party members, with both sides having equal weighting. Nominations have to be open for three days, with factions meeting on Tuesday night ahead of a caucus meeting at noon on Wednesday. If two candidates nominate, Victoria will have a new premier by AFL Grand Final day.

Andrews, considered to be one of the shrewdest politicians of his generation, will go down in history for steering Labor back from opposition after just one term and going on to increase his margin at every election since.

He also imprinted himself on the national consciousness for his decisions during the pandemic, overseeing one of the world’s longest lockdowns – inspiring angry protests on the steps of the Victorian Parliament and fierce admiration in others.

Business leaders, politicians and union heads praised the premier on Tuesday, reflecting on a legacy that will include a pipeline of major transport projects, such as the Metro Tunnel, West Gate Tunnel, North East Link and pledges to remove 110 level crossings.

Former premier Steve Bracks said his hallmark as premier would be “overseeing one of the most progressive governments Victoria has ever had”.

“Doing it in a way that brings people with him,” he told the ABC.

Andrews became renowned for his ability to sell a clear message and carefully read the political mood, allowing him to deliver reforms and survive scandals that other politicians may have stumbled over.

He championed social changes such as royal commissions and reform agendas in family violence and mental health, along with the introduction of voluntary assisted dying, medicinal cannabis, exclusion zones around abortion clinics, and a safe injecting room. His government has banned gay conversion therapy, started the treaty and truth-telling process with Indigenous people, and created a criminal offence for workplace manslaughter and deliberately underpaying workers.

But Victoria’s net debt is also expected to balloon to $171.4 billion by 2027, according to Treasury’s predictions in the 2023-24 May state budget. The Andrews government sought to blame that on the COVID-19 pandemic and in May announced “temporary” levies lasting 10 years to help get to an operating surplus by 2027.

Allan, a member of the Socialist Left faction, which currently has the majority within Labor’s caucus and in the party more broadly, has already announced she will run.

But if another person nominates successfully, a ballot would force a mini-campaign that includes votes from Labor party members, which would be damaging to the party’s image of internal unity.

In an effort to prevent that, Labor insiders told The Age the Left would accept the Right’s choice for deputy premier to ensure party unity. That would most likely go to Carroll.

In that scenario, the Left may seek a leadership position in the upper house and could force out Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes as leader in this chamber. Symes is from the Australian Workers Union faction from the right, which does not belong in the stability deal.

Environment Minister Ingrid Stitt could be the Left’s pick for the upper house leadership team.

Other options for deputy premier from the Right included Police Minister Anthony Carbines and Education Minister Natalie Hutchins.

Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas is also interested in the position of deputy premier, as is Mental Health Minister Gabrielle Williams.

But both are members of Allan and Andrews’ Socialist Left faction, and it is traditionally expected that a member of Labor’s Right would serve alongside a left-wing leader, a tradition that was broken with Allan’s appointment.

The carve-up of Victoria’s most senior leadership position will include extensive consultation with Labor’s factional leaders, who in 2021 signed a peace deal to prevent conflicts between the groupings.

Negotiators from the right include retail union boss Michael Donovan, Hawke MP Sam Rae, and Transport Workers Union assistant secretary Mem Suleyman.

On the left, the same deal was negotiated by former federal minister Alan Griffin, pollster Kos Samaras and current MPs Dylan Wight and Mat Hilakari.

Meetings were expected to run late into Tuesday.

Some members of Labor’s Socialist Left faction said that Allan as Premier and a Labor-right deputy was the most likely option.

Others insisted that the Left would ask for more after a series of internal ructions for spots on parliamentary committees and for the position of state secretary.

“There are simply too many mouths to feed on that side of the fence,” one MP said.

Opposition Leader John Pesutto said he would delay a shadow cabinet reshuffle until the government’s leader and ministry had become clear.

“I’d like to begin this afternoon by acknowledging a long period of service that Daniel Andrews has given to the Victorian Parliament and the Victorian people,” Pesutto said.

“I do take this opportunity to wish Mr Andrews well with his family and all that he does in the future. But at a time like this, it’s also important to face the facts. And the facts are that Premier Daniel Andrews is standing down today because things have fallen apart.

“We’ve seen it day after day, one crisis after another. The legacy that Daniel Andrews leaves is a state that is broke. Victoria is broke.”

Andrews declined to comment on his legacy on Tuesday and said he had no time for regrets.

“Legacy is for other people to determine … I’m not in this for those reasons, and that’s what leadership’s about,” he said.

“I’m not a regretful person, I don’t look back. I’ve always been, I’d like to think, I’ve always been focused on the future.”

He said he thought he was done with the public sector, but expected to stay in Melbourne.

“In terms of what I’m going to do next, I’m going to have a bit of time off. I’m going to spend some time with Cath and the kids, I’m going to play a bit of golf, read literally the pile of books that’s sitting in the corner that hasn’t been read,” Andrews said.

“I’m going to go through what will be a fairly challenging adjustment period I think.”

In one of his final days as premier, Andrews took a solo ride on the Metro Tunnel and got out at every station in what he described as a highlight of his leadership.

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