Daniel Andrews has been returned for a third term as Victorian premier, overcoming fierce criticisms of his government’s pandemic response to declare “hope always defeats hate”.
While the Labor party’s primary vote fell around 6% from the “Dan-slide” in 2018, the government was still on track to record a comfortable majority.
To cheers of “four more years” from supporters, Andrews took the stage in his electorate of Mulgrave and told the crowd “Labor does what matters”.
He said Victorians had been through an “incredibly challenging” past few years navigating the pandemic, as Melbourne endured some of the world’s longest lockdowns, but his job as premier was to focus on what needed to be done.
“Reforming giant and Labor icon Paul Keating once said to me, ‘Son, leadership isn’t about doing what’s popular. Leadership is about doing what’s right’,” Andrews said.
“Essentially he was telling me that leadership is about doing what matters.
“And that is exactly what the people of this great state have endorsed today in resoundingly re-electing our strong, stable majority Labor government.”
In conceding defeat to Andrews for a second time, the Liberal opposition leader, Matthew Guy, said he hoped the Labor party would govern differently in the upcoming term, after the state was polarised by the Covid response.
He pointed to swings against Labor, “above 15, approaching 20%” in Melbourne’s northern and western suburbs, as proof people were unhappy with the government.
“That, alone, I just say, is a message,” Guy said. “I hope that the Labor party, who will form the government, will heed that message, and will have a change in style, a change in attitude, and an approach focused on uniting Victorians not just dividing them, as has been the case.
“I hope and trust the next term of office for the government will be a different one because Victorians need to hear that.”
But Andrews said Victorians had understood the challenge of dealing with a rare pandemic.
“As a community we were not, as some would say, divided, we were instead united in our faith in science and faith and care for and in each other,” Andrews said.
‘The Green-slide continues’
On a historic night for Labor, the Greens looked set to be the other big winners, picking up at least two seats – Richmond and Northcote – to continue the momentum of their most successful ever federal election result in May.
The party was also in a number of other tight battles, with counting set to continue for days after record numbers of Victorians voted early or via postal ballots.
The Greens leader, Samantha Ratnam, was ebullient in addressing a crowd in a bar in Collingwood.
“My friends, I am so proud to be up here to tell you all that the Green-slide continues,” Ratnam said.
“Tonight we are on track to colour in the map of inner-city Melbourne green.”
Ratnam disputed the notion that the Liberals choosing to preference the Greens above Labor had caused the strong result, pointing to the party’s increased first preference vote.
While the Labor vote fell, the Liberal party first preference vote was also down, collapsing below 30%.
Those votes flowed to minor parties – including the Nationals, who gained three seats – as well as independents.
Whether or not Victorian parliament will gain a “teal” independent might not be known for several days, but at least two were in strong positions, with Kate Lardner leading in the seat of Mornington, while Melissa Lowe looked competitive against the former Liberal shadow attorney general John Pesutto in Hawthorn.
One small positive for the Liberal party was the seat of Nepean, in Melbourne’s south-east, where the former tennis professional Sam Groth entered the parliament.
The party also looked set to retain the seat of Kew, formerly held by the controversial MP Tim Smith who retired at this election. The seat was facing a significant teal challenge but looks likely to be retained by Liberal Jess Wilson.
But there was little else to cheer for the Coalition, with Andrews’ victory putting him on track to become the longest-serving Labor premier Victoria has ever had.
If he remains leader until Easter, he will take the mantle from John Cain Jr, who was premier for most of the 1980s.