An emotional Premier Daniel Andrews has urged civility in public debate after a pair of boots was left at the front of the location of his father’s funeral as part of an online campaign to « Give Dan the Boot ».
The organiser of the campaign, 19-year-old Liberal Party activist Edward Bourke, apologised for the « unacceptable » use of Mr Andrews’ family in political expression but said the Premier may be using the controversy to distract from his government’s performance.
An online event that more than 65,000 people registered their interest in encouraged Victorians to place a pair of boots at the front of their homes last Sunday and use the #GiveDanTheBoot hashtag to promote the campaign.
On Tuesday, Mr Andrews called the photograph a shameful « low » act and asked the public to refrain from invoking his deceased relatives in political debates.
« I saw that photo, the photo was sent to me by someone, » he said. « I know that farm well.
« The last time I was in that shed was when I carried my father’s coffin out of it. »
Mr Andrews – whose father, Bob, a cattleman, was farewelled in 2016 at the family’s farm in Londrigan, near Wangaratta, following a battle with cancer – said vigorous debate was good for democracy but « decency matters too ».
« Have a different view to me, but leave my family out of it, and particularly the dead members of my family out of it, » he said.
The online campaign was hosted by Victoria Forward, an online political campaign group with more than 22,000 followers that has agitated against the government’s emergency powers extension and other aspects of its pandemic response.
Mr Bourke is the administrator of the group. The activist’s LinkedIn account lists him as the managing director of a political consultancy called 470 Bourke.
Following Mr Andrews’ comments, Victoria Forward released a statement on its Facebook page saying it was unaware a participant in the campaign had taken the photo at the sensitive location.
« Victoria Forward is a champion of free speech and political discourse. However, we do not endorse use of personal tragedy for political point-scoring, » the statement said, adding the group had no role in the production of the image.
« Many thousands of Victorians took part in the Give Dan the Boot campaign in a respectful and considered way, and this one intensive action by a rogue third party should not detract from the message those other Victorians sent to Premier Daniel Andrews.
« The Premier may be attempting to use this one, admittedly regrettable image, to distract from the fact Victorians have rejected his leadership and demonstrated in their tens of thousands [at protests].
« Millions are under effective house arrest, hundreds of thousands have lost their job, and Victoria is falling apart. This is what we must focus on. »
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