Lindsay Fox has no truck with Premier’s corporate critics
21st October 2020

If only Lindsay Fox's birthday was in October.

On the Zoom call for the trucking magnate's 83rd birthday party in April were names such as billionaire retailer Solomon Lew, Seek chief executive Andrew Bassat and Westpac chairman John McFarlane.

And, of course, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.

Trucking boss Lindsay Fox has diverged from big business leaders to back Premier Daniel Andrews.Credit:Eddie Jim

The Premier may have had an awkward evening if Mr Fox's party was next week, based on the volume of business leader frustration directed towards him in recent months as Victoria has shuffled out of its second wave of coronavirus.

Seven of Australia's top chief executives this week became the latest voices in the chorus as they penned a letter urging Mr Andrews to move more quickly in reopening Victoria.

Yet Mr Fox, who met Mr Andrews after he became opposition leader in 2010, differs from many of his esteemed birthday party invitees and almost all of the Victorian business industry in praising the Premier for "at the least, showing leadership".

He says business leaders are entitled to their opinions, but many detractors are playing the man, not the ball.

Daniel Andrews has come under fire from business leaders for moving Victoria too slowly out of restrictions.Credit:Getty Images

Instead, he empathises with what he calls the Premier's impossible job and says his motivation is keeping Victorians safe.

"The Premier is working 24/7,'' he says. ''Who would want to take on that job? I don't think there's ever been anything like this pandemic, especially with everybody having their say from the commercial industry and all walks of life.

"Let's make it perfectly clear, I'm not his disciple. If there was a real problem I had with Dan, I'd speak up against it too. I haven't had a great deal to do with Dan, but I've always respected his tough-line approach to getting things done."

Mr Fox texted Mr Andrews his advice on business leaders' anger last month: harness their frustration, like then-premier Joan Kirner did as Australia battled recession in the early 1990s.

Ms Kirner invited Mr Fox onto a panel of political, union and business leaders, steered by former union boss Bill Kelty and businessman-turned Liberal Party president John Elliott, that plotted Victoria's recovery in jobs, mental health and culture.

A similar, 150-member Committee for Melbourne, led by businesswoman Martine Letts, will report to Governor Linda Dessau later this month.

Mr Fox, who is on a similar advisory board of leading figures hand-picked by Melbourne lord mayor Sally Capp, wants Mr Andrews to listen to them better than he ever has before.

"Could I manage a trucking business? Yes. Could I take an appendix out? No," says Mr Fox.

"Can a politician do all the things you expect them to do? The answer is no. You have people with a wealth of experience who can make things happen and they want to help right now."

Amid tension between federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Mr Andrews this week, and the Premier's promise to keep returning fire, Mr Fox believes it is not unreasonable to ask that state and federal leaders reignite the wartime mentality that defined Australian politics as coronavirus first spread through the country in March.

"If you look right now, it's like each political party thinks the other has measles. There should be co-operation and respect," Mr Fox says.

The Premier extended a small olive branch to business leaders on Wednesday, flagging positive announcements on the possible reopening of retail and hospitality on Sunday.

"To those CEOs and others, I do very much hope. And if these numbers continue to be on trend, we will be able to have more to say on the weekend," Mr Andrews said.

Mr Fox says irrespective of the coming months, his birthday party list won't be changing.

"My friends are my friends," he says. "I'd say the same list of people that came five years ago will come again."

If Mr Andrews and business can bridge the gap, it might make next year's party a little more harmonious.

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