‘Stopped me in my tracks’: How one phone call changed Jacinta Allan’s life

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It was a phone call that stopped Jacinta Allan dead in her tracks.

The then deputy Labor leader was walking around Melbourne’s Flagstaff Gardens on an unseasonably warm September morning when Daniel Andrews’ name flashed up on her iPhone screen. He was standing down as premier and leaving parliament.

Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan at her home near Bendigo with husband Yorick Piper.Credit: Penny Stephens

As deputy, Allan was favoured to succeed Andrews as Victoria's next leader, but insists she was shocked by Andrew’s somewhat sudden decision to leave less than a year after the election.

“It wasn’t on my bingo card,” Allan told The Sunday Age last week from her office at One Treasury Place. “There was all the speculation, I didn’t live in my own bubble … but he rang me and it literally stopped me in my tracks.

“What comes will come because in politics, things can change in a heartbeat and often it is outside of your control.”

Allan had more humble plans that week – to take her two children Peggy, 11, and Cormac, 9, to the Royal Melbourne Show. A little over 24 hours later she was being sworn in as premier during a ceremony at Government House.

Allan is sworn in by the Governor of Victoria Professor Margaret Gardner at Government House.Credit: Ian Currie

September had already been a busy month for Allan, who celebrated her 50th birthday just weeks before becoming the state’s second female premier.

Several members of her inner circle, speaking on condition of anonymity, believe that on reflection Allan’s speech may have contained some hidden messages about her imminent promotion to the state’s top job.

Allan denies having more than two hours’ notice of Andrews’ departure.

Still, she and her partner Yorick Piper – who she describes as her greatest supporter – had discussed what taking on such a role would mean for their family, particularly the increased travel demands from their rural base 20 kilometres south of Bendigo.

“We’d had a theoretical ‘What if?’ [conversation], and ‘How would we?’ if that was to happen,” Allan said. “The main focus of our conversation between my husband and me in these matters was how would we make sure our kids are best supported to keep being kids.”

Back in 2014, when Labor was returned to power after just one term, Piper – a union official who had worked as a ministerial adviser to Allan and other ministers in the Brumby government – decided to stay at home and care for the couple’s two children, who were then both aged under three.

“We have worked really hard to make sure our family life is really stable for the kids, well-loved and well-supported,” Allan said. “We are still finding our new balance … and what our new normal is going to look like.”

And it’s also taken her a little while to adjust to the expanded scope of being premier.

Then-premier Daniel Andrews and his deputy Jacinta Allan announcing the cancellation of the 2026 Commonwealth Games on July 18.Credit: Joe Armao

“There is a lot of activity and it has been a period of adjustment,” Allan said. “The landscape has just broadened out so substantially, a lot of it is areas that never hit the pages of a newspaper.”

But it’s those issues that have appeared in the pages of newspapers – often on the front page – that threaten to dominate her time as premier.

Two months before Allan was sworn in as Victoria’s 49th premier, she joined Andrews in announcing the 2026 Commonwealth Games would be cancelled due to cost blowouts. Allan was the responsible minister, leading to questions about why, months earlier, she spoke so positively about the sporting event when she knew it was billions of dollars over budget.

“It’s always hard to make the hard decisions. The alternative could have been to sit back and watch the costs come in,” she said.

Allan meeting with Commonwealth Games athletes in July 2022.Credit: Eddie Jim

In her other portfolio, transport infrastructure and the Suburban Rail Loop, Allan also oversaw the largest blowout in construction costs of any transport minister. And last week the Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass slammed the “excessive secrecy” around the creation of the 90km orbital rail loop, finding the project was devised without the input of expert bureaucrats.

Add to that a recent survey by Resolve Political Monitor, conducted exclusively for The Age, found the gap between Labor and the Coalition is now at its tightest in a year as the margin between Allan and Opposition Leader John Pesutto as preferred premier also narrows.

Allan and her husband Yorick at the 2023 NGV Gala this month.Credit: Getty

Allan’s quandary is often compared to that of Victoria’s first female premier, Joan Kirner, who took over as leader at the tail end of a disastrous period for Victoria’s economic management. It’s a concept known as the “glass cliff”, where women are routinely promoted to leadership positions ahead of a downturn when the risk of failure is high.

“At every point in history there is a challenge for the government of the day; sometimes they are defined by your own actions, and sometimes they are defined by external factors,” Allan said.

“Because there have been so few women in these roles … there is no one else really to compare us to, other than the only other one, and so I think in time we will become judged by our time in the role and the actions.”

An immediate challenge for Allan is to cultivate her own image as a leader, away from the omnipresent Andrews, who she served as a loyal deputy and supportive factional ally. While she remains committed to his policy agenda, she has added another focus with the creation of a new portfolio aimed at children, stemming from a very personal battle.

One of Allan’s children was born with some early health challenges and was whisked from the delivery room to the Royal Children’s Hospital. They spent three months there until they could undergo surgery.

During what Allan describes as “some really tough times”, the new mum found support from a range of government services including her maternal and child health nurse. She wants to ensure young families are offered the same support, as well as ongoing services, particularly in more economically challenging times.

“You are physically and emotionally going through a lot too, and then you have to then engage in the system,” she said.

“It’s about looking at what we can do through those service platforms for people who need a little bit extra support.”

Allan’s mother Glenda said that watching her daughter juggle her political career and navigate motherhood, particularly the early weeks, was a challenge.

“We were very worried for her, but she is a very strong girl, Jacinta,” Glenda told The Sunday Age from her home in Bendigo. “But she always says ‘don’t worry about me’.”

Allan, then transport minister, in 2015.Credit: Eddie Jim

Glenda said that while she and husband Peter are proud of their daughter’s political career, there remained no greater pleasure than joining Jacinta in the kitchen to help bake her grandchildren’s birthday cakes.

According to Allan’s parents, it was clear from the age of 12 that she had lofty goals. The family would host dinner for her father Peter’s colleagues from the Electrical Trade Union members before their meetings, where Allan would “absorb everything they would say”.

Meal times involved “great discussions” where – according to Glenda – Allan was always told “that if she was going to argue a point, she had to argue constructively”.

After leaving school, Allan studied arts at La Trobe University in Bendigo after missing out on a journalism cadetship. She was working as a political staffer when she agreed to run for Bendigo East at the 1999 state election – a seat Labor wasn’t expected to win.

Allan turned 26 the day after the election – the youngest woman to be elected to Victoria’s parliament.

“We have been through all the elections,” Glenda said. “Jacinta just says, ‘Come for the ride mum’, and this ride has been going for more than 20 years.”

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