Allan promises a new style of leadership. Easier said than done

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Hidden among the pledges of unity and service from newly installed Premier Jacinta Allan was a subtle promise to change the style of leadership we have become used to.

“Comparisons are inevitable,” Allan said, but over time Victorians would see “a very different style”.

Jacinta Allan is sworn in by Governor Margaret Gardner on Wednesday.Credit: Ian Currie

Easier said than done.

Allan’s supporters and critics alike believe she is a practitioner of similar politics to her predecessor Daniel Andrews, opting to tightly manage the message and maintain the firmest grip on her portfolios.

The pair forged a close bond, having risen through the ranks in the Bracks and Brumby governments together and serving alongside one another as leader and deputy.

Tuesday’s messy handover of power from Andrews to Allan suggests the new premier will lack Andrews’ authority in the caucus and cabinet, forcing her to adopt a more collaborative approach.

Andrews’ brand of politics served him well in terms of running an efficient government from which he could get what he wanted, with few hurdles or leaks. Not all Labor MPs loved it, but his success at the ballot box allowed him to centralise power and rule with an iron fist.

Allan has no choice but to bring her own style to the job, but she also needs to stick to Labor’s election-winning formula.

Over 20 years on Spring Street, Allan developed a reputation as a combative but loyal brawler, a standing that did not necessarily win her friends. Then, after taking on the deputy job a little more than a year ago, colleagues noticed a concerted effort from her to play nice, which they assumed was a not-so-subtle attempt to lock in support before Andrews’ inevitable departure.

Given Andrews’ electoral success, there will be a temptation to emulate his style. While imitation is the greatest form of flattery, authenticity will be key to her success.

Allan’s rare show of emotion after taking over the leadership stood in stark contrast to her reputation as a fierce and forceful minister. She is, after all, a product of a political generation in which women often felt they needed to mask their femininity and bring a masculine energy to leadership roles to succeed.

While a member of the Socialist Left faction, Allan has been a supporter but never a public champion of social reform. On Tuesday, she committed to continue the strong reform agenda of the Andrews government, but promised to outline her own policy priorities, noting it was about “marking that transition”.

Allan has the opportunity to tackle some of the biggest problems facing the state before they become an electoral headache.

If ever there was a policy issue demanding action, it’s the state finances, which have faced repeated cost escalations, due in large part to infrastructure projects that blew out under Allan’s watch.

It exposes her to an attack for the role she played in the state’s growing debt. Her ascension also offers the opposition a rare chance to claw back some support given Andrews was often considered a key reason behind Labor’s success. But that will require discipline.

There was a hint on Tuesday that they were willing to exploit her policy weaknesses – particularly her long list of costly major projects, as well as the bungling of the 2026 Commonwealth Games, which she was charged with delivering.

This is unlikely to rattle Allan, a political veteran, but if it seeps into voters’ minds, it could make colleagues nervous.

The departure of Andrews three years out from the next election gives Allan a chance to reset the government, to be more collaborative, consultative and more fiscally responsible.

The question is whether she is up to the task.

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