• Australia's most popular premier could cause Scott Morrison headaches this year

    Updated January 12, 2019 08:37:15

    Daniel Andrews romped to victory last November smashing the Liberal Party, cementing himself as the most popular premier in the country and giving him plenty of power to flex against the under-pressure Morrison Government.

    It did not take long after his victory lap for Mr Andrews to cause problems for the flailing Morrison Government, engaging in a game of brinkmanship on education funding.

    The Premier won that stand off just before Christmas, but what does 2019 hold in store for politics in Victoria — in particular what role does Mr Andrews play in the upcoming federal poll?

    In Bill Shorten's corner

    Victoria was problematic for Labor at the last federal election, with the political firestorm over the Premier's handling of the CFA a major distraction for Labor's national campaign.

    It was in Victoria where the Liberals, through now-independent Julia Banks, actually won a seat off a surging ALP.

    But in the past three years the Coalition has crashed, culminating with the annihilation at the state poll on November 24.

    With the federal election due in the next five months, some inside Victorian Labor are hoping that Mr Andrews will play a key role in that battle in his home state, especially in inner-city Melbourne.

    The relationship between Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and his team and the Premier is collaborative — there were several complementary policies at the state poll and it is this type of relationship that is most likely during the election.

    Standing side-by-side at the same press conference during last year's campaign Mr Shorten promised funding for ten hours of kinder, while Mr Andrews promised to fund an extra five hours.

    Mr Shorten also announced solar initiatives that leveraged off Victorian Labor solar homes scheme.

    Mr Andrews can also cause headaches for the Prime Minister.

    Having already picked and won a fight on education, what other fights may Mr Andrews choose to square up to the Federal Government on?

    For a long time, Canberra and Spring Street have bickered over infrastructure, with the state complaining that federal cash for projects does not match Victoria's population. This is sure to remain a hot topic during the campaign.

    It is a win-win for the Andrews Government, because deals are likely to be better under a federal Labor government, while it also might force the Coalition to find more cash for Victorian projects in the short-term.

    Coalition's Victorian vote crash

    The other reality is that the ALP may not need Mr Andrews, such is the depth of despair in Liberal ranks.

    Since the November 24 thumping, attention has turned to how many seats Labor can seize from the Liberals in Victoria.

    State victories in places like Nepean and Hawthorn, and close calls in Brighton, have emboldened the ALP to dream of victories in seats like Flinders and Higgins, held by ministers Greg Hunt and Kelly O'Dwyer.

    The bold optimism among Labor about their prospects is matched by pessimism in local Liberal ranks.

    While the Liberal chaos in Canberra was a factor in the state result, Labor's infrastructure agenda was a winner and 2019 promises more of the same with the Government to continue to build and spruik major projects.

    "This year will be busy, a lot like 2015 with projects being established to set the Government up in a good position in another four years' time,'' one senior figure said.

    And while there will be a big focus on delivery, there will also be some major social shifts and challenges for the justice system.

    From July 1, terminally ill Victorians who meet the criteria will be able to access drugs to end their lives.

    It is ground-breaking Australian law, with naysayers and advocates alike watching to see how many Victorians will choose to access the historic scheme that looms as Mr Andrews lasting social legacy.

    In the coming weeks two royal commissions will begin — one a key election promise to look into mental health, the other a response to the scandal involving the police's use of a lawyer as an informant during the gangland wars.

    It will be a fascinating inquiry that threatens to shake-up the police and prosecutions, raising questions about whether some of the state's most high-profile and notorious criminal figures were correctly incarcerated.

    The other inquiry will lift the lid on inadequacies in the state's treatment for huge number of people that suffer a mental health issue during their life.

    It will make for grim reading at times, but the hope is it will dramatically shift the way governments and authorities respond to mental health.

    Upper House battles ahead

    While the Government scored a thumping victory on November 24, it did not gain a majority in the Upper House, winning 18 of 40 spots, meaning it will need to win three votes from the 11-member crossbench to pass contentious legislation.

    An overhaul of the state's fire services looms as the most likely issue to test the numbers first.

    Labor tried to reform firefighting last year by making the CFA a volunteer-only organisation and create a new paid firefighter service, Fire Rescue Victoria, to respond to incidents in built up urban areas.

    The re-elected Government will pursue the reforms after this fire season.

    But fears from the volunteers' association remain, chiefly that many CFA volunteers in Melbourne's outer suburbs will quit because the new career firefighters will do the bulk of the work.

    The association warn this will reduce the state's surge capacity, which involves firefighters being sent across the state for major bushfires.

    The Andrews Government will be aiming for much smoother debate with its newly won mandate, while the Federal Opposition will be hoping any political fire on the issue comes well after polling day.

    Topics: government-and-politics, federal-government, federal---state-issues, state-elections, parliament, state-parliament, melbourne-3000, vic, australia

    First posted January 12, 2019 08:35:46

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