- She’s tipped to be Victoria’s next premier, but Jacinta Allan isn’t tempted to fall into the trap of exposing any leadership ambitions.
- Arriving at Spring Street at the age of 26, Allan has studiously avoided controversy despite overseeing cost blowouts and delays on transport infrastructure projects.
- Allan’s rise has also angered many, including many within her own faction. But she has also drawn praise from federal Coalition MPs.
Jacinta Allan is widely tipped to become Victorian’s next Labor premier, but you won’t hear her admit it.
Deputy premier Jacinta Allan, pictured this week. Credit:Eddie Jim
“I am not going to deny it’s not flattering to be thought of in those terms, of course,” she says. “But the thing that gets me out of bed is the work I get to do in Bendigo and my portfolio and, I know it might sound corny, but making my family proud.”
Not tempted to fall into the trap of exposing any leadership ambitions, Allan's answer reveals much about her approach to politics.
Allan is a self-confessed goody two shoes, and caucus colleagues describe her as diligent, dutiful and even boring. She has studiously avoided controversy and, according to staff, prides herself on being on top of her portfolios of transport infrastructure, Suburban Rail Loop and delivering the Commonwealth Games.
In many ways, Allan’s approach to her political career was shaped by her arrival at Spring Street at the age of 26. “I was conscious that I was a very young woman,” she says. “The way I approached it was to always do my homework.”
Allan was young political staffer with ambitions of one day becoming a ministerial adviser when she agreed to run for Bendigo East at the 1999 state election.
Her public profile had risen when she led the campaign against a proposed table-top dancing club in her home town of Bendigo.
“She didn’t do it strategically,” Allan’s close friend Marika McMahon tells The Sunday Age. “She was disgusted and thought it was a backwards step.”
The seat was then held by Michael John, a one-time Liberal cabinet minister who had represented the seat for 15 years. Allan didn’t expect to win.
Jacinta Allan at the level crossing removal project in Ardeer in May 2022.Credit:Eddie Jim
Yet a wave of anger at the Kennett government at that election resulted in a swing of about 5 per cent in regional centres and 7.5 per cent in rural Victoria. In Bendigo, there was a 9 per cent swing to Labor, catapulting Allan to Spring Street.
She turned 26 the day after the election. She was the youngest woman to be elected to Victoria’s parliament.
Allan admits she was “shocked” by the result, describing it as “quite an adjustment and transition”.
In her first term she was elevated to the front bench as minister for Employment, Education Services and Youth, becoming the state’s youngest minister, aged just 29.
Jacinta Allan pictured after becoming an MP, aged 26. Credit:Craig Sillitoe
Allan describes herself as “a real Hermione Granger” in reference to the bookish Harry Potter character who, like Allan, was dedicated to her school work and at times, a bit of a know-it-all.
After leaving school she studied Arts at La Trobe University in Bendigo after missing out on a journalism cadetship at the Bendigo Advertiser. It was there she joined the Labor Party, travelling to Melbourne on weekends for party events with her Labor Party contemporaries including Daniel Andrews, former attorney-general Jill Hennessy and federal Labor politicians Andrews Giles and Julian Hill.
For her honours year she interned for federal Labor MP Lindsay Tanner’s office in Canberra before slotting into a spot in the electorate office of Neil O’Keefe and later Stephen Gibbons in Bendigo. Other than a brief stint on a Coles checkout, Allan’s entire career has been in politics.
In early interviews, Allan spoke openly about her life away from politics. These days, she is more likely to sidestep personal questions. Colleagues and friends believe her reticence may stem from spending more than half of her life as a high-profile MP, while juggling a career, a marriage breakdown and motherhood.
As a young minister, Allan was married to AWU Victorian branch secretary Ben Davis. Four years later, she married Yorick Piper, who had worked as a ministerial adviser to Allan and other ministers in the Brumby government. The couple have two children and live on a farm near Bendigo.
She is guarded about her two children, who are 10 and eight years old, but says becoming a mother changed her approach to politics. Friends say Allan and husband Piper have raised “beautifully balanced kids” despite the unrelenting demands of her job.
“The biggest impact on my outlook and the way I work has been having kids,” Allan says. “Having kids is motivating”.
Politicians and public servants who have worked alongside her praise Allan’s work ethic and enthusiasm, but describe her as more of a manager than a visionary. Melbourne Metro Rail Authority chief executive Evan Tattersall, who has worked closely with Allan for the past seven years, describes Allan as “tough” in meetings but willing to take advice.
“She is pragmatic, and she listens,” he tells The Sunday Age. “She’s one of the most open and honest people that I have dealt with in politics.”
It’s a view shared by former COVID-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar who worked alongside Allan in her various transport portfolios and more recently when, as acting premier, she decided to shut the NSW border during the busy summer holiday period, due to rising COVID cases.
Allen is announced as a minister in 2002 by proud premier Steve Bracks.Credit:Jason South
The decision meant 60,000 people were forced to frantically abandon long-awaited holidays and return to Victoria before midnight on New Year’s Eve to avoid 14 days of home quarantine. Some were trapped, locked out of their home state.
Recalling daily – sometimes hourly – conversations with Allan between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, Weimar praises Allan for engaging with the problem, not avoiding it. “It was a really difficult time, none of us wanted to be there,” he says.
Initially, she pushed back on the advice, understanding the gravity and consequences of not only ruining holidays for COVID-weary Victorians, but the potential border crush the decision would create. “I don’t think it was very enjoyable for her, but she backed us. I think that’s what she does.”
Allan expects the highest standards from her department and will forensically grill bureaucrats. It’s a skill she has honed over her two decades in parliament and more than 15 years as a minister.
In those early years as a minister, she faced criticism from some longer-serving MPs for falling into a common trap of allowing her department to dictate her decisions. She recalls sitting in the middle of a boardroom table as a newly minted minister in her early 30s and initially feeling quite “passive” as the men – as most of them were – didn’t know how to engage with such a young female minister.
“I would get the briefs the night before, and I would read them, take notes, ask questions, and that was when I really learnt the value of not being afraid to ask questions because you might look stupid,” she says.
“It was about making sure that when you were given the opportunity to speak or present that you could show that you could do it.” But that work ethic hasn’t always shielded her from political storms.
As minister for transport infrastructure, Allan has overseen billions of dollars in cost blowouts and delays on Melbourne’s Metro Tunnel rail project and the troubled West Gate Tunnel.
Transport Minister Jacinta Allan with Premier Daniel Andrews at the site of the Suburban Rail Loop station in Clayton last month.Credit:Andrew Henshaw
Questions also remain about the merit of the Suburban Rail Loop – the largest infrastructure project in Australia’s history – which will connect metropolitan train lines in the east with rail lines in the west. Her ambition has also earned her enemies within her own party. A string of recent resignations from the ministry triggered a reshuffle and saw Andrews exploit a divided Labor Party to install Allan, his preferred candidate and factional ally. The factional play was interpreted as a signal that she is the premier’s pick to succeed him as Labor leader.
While cabinet reshuffles inevitably cause friction, Allan’s rise angered many, including many within her own faction, and united opposing forces who are predicted to unite to try and ensure she never takes the top job.
Despite her obvious talents, there has long been a view among some on Spring Street that Allan is not universally liked. Her manner has been described as “prickly” or “smug” in backroom discussions, but when challenged, those assertions seem to fall apart.
It’s a view not shared by Andrews, but colleagues say he is aware of it. When asked to explain the undercurrent of hostility, supporters argue it is driven by envy or sexism, rather than reality. And her actions often challenge the perception.
Every Thursday at the end of the sitting week, Allan hosts drinks in her office and uses it as forum to bring together Labor women. One of those, Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes, who comes from the party’s Right faction, says she has found Allan to be honest and approachable since she joined the ministry.
“As a member of parliament and a minister I found her to be incredibly supportive in a professional and personal sense,” Symes tells The Sunday Age. “There are only a few people who understand what this job entails and having someone as approachable, accessible and trustworthy has been hugely helpful.”
Some colleagues suspect the roots of hostility towards Allan stem from her factional allegiance. While a member of the Socialist Left faction, Allan has never been a public champion of social reform. Allan considers herself a feminist and is pro-choice. She voted to decriminalise abortion, supported assisted dying laws and backed legislation for same-sex adoption. But you are unlikely to see the country MP tweeting about it.
Several cabinet members tell The Sunday Age Allan rarely takes a strong view on social policies in cabinet and is more focused on infrastructure or regional issues. “She’s not really focused on social policy land,” one cabinet minister says. “The Left are expected to do more in that space, so perhaps that’s driving discontent.”
She is passionate about changing the culture of parliament, having been on the receiving end of sexist comments and innuendo at state parliament. She says there is now an environment to call out poor behaviour which she describes as a “big, powerful and important change” in politics.
As a product of the party machine, Allan is unashamed about her priorities: Bendigo, Victoria and Labor. But she is a politician driven by outcomes, not necessarily ideology.
As a young party member she recalls listening to party members engage in “esoteric debates about Cuba” while her focus was her community and improving the outcomes for traditional working people in her electorate.
It was her father and grandfather, Bill, – a long-standing president of the Bendigo Trades Hall – who shaped her political views. She was raised to love Labor and loathe the Coalition, particularly the National Party, due to their anti-union policies. It was a view enforced by Allan’s dad, Peter, an electricity linesman and proud union member.
In her infrastructure portfolios, Allan was involved in several high-profile spats with the federal government over Victoria’s share of infrastructure funding, claiming the state has been short-changed.
During the Turnbull and Morrison governments, Allan was prepared to take on her federal counterparts, National MPs Darren Chester and Michael McCormack, but it never became the sort of slanging match that came to define the relationship between the Andrews government’s and Canberra during the pandemic.
“Jacinta is a career politician and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way,” Chester tells The Age. We don’t criticise ‘career doctors’ or ‘career builders’ so what’s wrong with someone deciding at a relatively young age to be a professional parliamentarian?
“She drove a hard bargain, but we were always able to put aside any political differences to get a deal done that was in Victoria’s best interests.”
Former deputy prime minister Michael McCormack says Jacinta Allan has the “smarts” to step up to the top job.Credit:Joe Armao
For his part, former deputy prime minister and Nationals leader, Michael McCormack, praises Allan for her bipartisanship during the pandemic and believes she has what it takes to lead her party. “I have been in the top job and led my party and I think she could effortlessly step up,” he says. “She has the smarts. You can’t last in politics for 25 years without that.”
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