New South Wales Opposition Leader John Robertson will be watching Victoria’s election results on Saturday night with an unusual degree of interest — if Labor’s Daniel Andrews becomes premier, as is widely tipped, maybe there is hope for other politicians utterly devoid of charisma.
So might Annastacia Palaszczuk, Queensland’s Opposition Leader, whose hold on the party’s leadership is under constant speculation.
Andrews, 42, is a party apparatchik from central casting. After graduating from Monash in 1996 with an arts degree, Andrews has followed a singular political career: as an electorate officer, an ALP organiser and then as assistant state secretary before entering Parliament in 2002 as MP for Mulgrave.
When then-premier John Brumby narrowly lost the 2010 state election, Andrews succeeded him as party leader but never attained the popularity of predecessors like Steve Bracks. In political terms, he is a plodder rather than a meteor, and his name remains largely unrecognised outside Victoria.
An Andrews victory would hearten Robertson, who is set to lead the NSW ALP to an election next March 28. All the polls confirm that “Robbo” is dismally trailing Premier Mike Baird as preferred premier, and his position as Labor leader is under threat from Jodi McKay, who is candidate for Strathfield in the March election.
When the Fairfax-Ipsos poll was published earlier this week, Baird outpolled Robertson as preferred premier 57% to 22% while McKay was favoured as ALP leader by 21% of voters, only slightly less than to Robertson’s 23%.
The result clearly embarrassed McKay, who said: “I’m not even in Parliament.”
NSW Parliament rose last week, ending the likelihood of an 11th-hour leadership change. The widely tipped pretenders, upper house MP Luke Foley and Maroubra MP Michael Daley, buried their frustrations and headed for the hustings to back a leader who has been declared “unelectable”.
Something of the same is happening in Queensland, where an election has to be called no later than June 20 next year. Labor leader Palaszczuk has been unable to raise her profile in a media environment dominated by the muscular persona of Premier Campbell Newman, an ex-army major, and the pro-LNP, anti-Labor Murdoch media, which includes the Brisbane Courier-Mail, the Gold Coast Bulletin, the Townsville Bulletin, The Cairns Post plus a dozen community newspapers in Queensland’s heavily populated south-east.
Political veterans believe Palaszczuk will be challenged for the leadership at the first meeting of the post-election caucus, with barrister Cameron Dick, a former attorney-general and education minister in premier Anna Bligh’s government, the most likely candidate.
But like McKay in NSW, Dick will first have to win a seat in Parliament. He is standing for Woodridge, an outer-Brisbane electorate, in a tussle with the LNP’s Steve Viliamu, a member of the party’s Christian Right.
Another favored candidate for the Labor leadership is Yvette D’Ath, federal MP for Petrie from 2007 to 2013, and MP for the state seat of Redcliffe since her barnstorming victory in a byelection last February.
In August, the 44-year-old D’Ath was promoted to shadow attorney-general and justice minister, from where she will be poised to challenge if she finds the numbers.
A lot is riding on Daniel Andrews’ victory this weekend — including John Robertson and Annastacia Palaszczuk. If charisma and brio are no longer a requirement for electability, they will be feeling a lot safer.