Daniel Andrews will on Monday mark 3,000 days in office and qualify for a statue outside the premier’s office at 1 Treasury Place.
The milestone was dreamed up, ironically enough, by one of his harshest critics, Jeff Kennett, on the cusp of the 1999 Victorian election.
Kennett was expected to comfortably win that election and join four premiers in receiving the honour: Albert Dunstan, Henry Bolte, Rupert Hamer and John Cain Jr.
Instead he went on to lose to Steve Bracks, whose Labor party then won five of the next six polls, including three under Andrews’ leadership.
The sculptor Peter Corlett, who was commissioned to design the four statues that stand near Melbourne’s Treasury Gardens, says he has some sympathy for Kennett.
“Poor old Kennett started it up and missed out by about a year,” he says.
Although Corlett is yet to be commissioned for a likeness of Andrews, he already has something in mind.
“When he came out to claim credit for the last election, where he held his two fists in the air – that was a great image, a rare showing of emotion from the premier,” Corlett says.
“Other people have said it has to be of him in his North Face jacket.
“We’ll see. He doesn’t have to necessarily have one. It’s not set in the constitution or anything.”
Victoria University’s Prof Tom Clark, whose research interests include political speeches, says Kennett’s experience proves the remarkable challenge that is reaching the milestone.
“It’s hard to get there and in politics you can’t take longevity for granted,” Clark says.
“To last that long you end up leaving the state looking a lot different than when you came to office.”
Records set in stone
Its undeniable Victoria is forever altered by large-scale infrastructure projects embarked upon by the Andrews government. There’s the hugely ambitious – and expensive – 90km suburban rail loop project, and the smaller-scale but popular level crossing removal projects, along with new hospitals and schools.
There has also been social reforms, including the introduction of voluntary assisted dying laws, safe access zones for abortion clinics, a ban on gay conversion practices, landmark royal commissions into family violence and mental health, and the nation’s first process of negotiating a treaty with First Nations people.
Andrews is also the country’s longest current-serving state premier, followed by Queensland’s Annastasia Palaszczuk, who will also reach the 3,000-day milestone later this year – though she has firmly rejected following suit with the statue policy.
Ian Tulloch, an adjunct research fellow at La Trobe University, where he teachers Australian and state politics, describes Andrews as the “most reformist” premier since Cain, who he will surpass in April as Labor’s longest Victorian leader.
He says it is “impossible” to compare Andrews to the four men before him who reached 3,000 days in office. Dunstan was a wartime premier, whose Country party formed an unlikely alliance with Labor to remain in power, while Bolte benefited from the great Labor split of 1955 and was part of the “heydey of the Liberal party”, led nationally at the time by prime minister Robert Menzies.
Hamer and Cain were “effective and pragmatic politicians”, though the latter, according to Tulloch, more profoundly modernised the state through reforms such as liberalising shop trading hours and liquor laws, equal opportunity initiatives, and occupational health and safety legislation.
None have gone as far or are as bold as Andrews, he says, but he acknowledges there are similarities between the five leaders.
“You need a lot of internal resolve. You need a lot of toughness. I don’t think it’s true of John Cain, but you do need to be extremely ruthless with your enemies – both your opposition and those within your own ranks. I think Daniel Andrews has proven he is. Bolte certainly was,” Tulloch says.
“And things have to go the right way too. The times have to be right, so you need a bit of luck as well.
“Andrews came in at a time where Victoria was doing very well. If the Victorian economy was in the doldrums, he wouldn’t have been able to spend that much money on infrastructure.”
Jim Walter, an emeritus professor of political science at Monash University, says Andrews’ longevity can also be attributed to his leadership style, which he describes as a “my way or the highway” approach that sets him apart from other modern Victorian Labor leaders.
Andrews is also the beneficiary of significant demographic shifts.
“Labor has been advantaged by patterns of migration, diversification and the growing population of progressive younger voters over the past 10 years or so,” Walter says.
“In the Bolte and Hamer years, Victoria was considered the jewel in the Liberal party crown but now Labor has become the natural party of government, thanks in part to all those factors.”
But the experts agree that time is not the paramount measure of a leader’s impact. Clark cites Whitlam government reforms, which he argues shaped the nation in a way no other government had since the second world war.
“The Whitlam era is remembered much more vividly than many other longer lasting governments before or since,” he says.
Then there’s Kennett, who Tulloch says “didn’t need 3,000 days to make an impact”.
“He was a wrecking ball. If you look at his legacy, it’s massive cuts to health, education, the public sector, local government,” he says.
‘Just another day’
Andrews, in his typical fashion, insists he hasn’t given the milestone any thought.
“That’s a milestone that was dreamed up by former premier Kennett. From my point of view, there’s no magic to that day,” he told reporters on Thursday.
“It will just be another day where we get on and deliver all the things we said we would do. Try to provide the strong, effective leadership that our state needs.
“People who spend a lot of time talking about legacy usually spend not enough time actually building one.”
The Department of Premier and Cabinet confirmed Andrews would not be involved in commissioning a statue of himself, and said any statue of a long-serving premier would be considered by the government after they had left office.