by Jarryd Bartle
Tuesday, 12
April 2022
Dispatch
10:22

The missing issue in Australia’s upcoming election: Covid

The country's stringent policies barely feature on the trail
by Jarryd Bartle
Credit: Getty

Melbourne

Despite predictions of a voter backlash over Australia’s stringent Covid-19 policies, lockdowns and vaccine mandates barely register as issues in the upcoming Federal election.

The contest between the Prime Minister Scott Morrison of the Liberal Party and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese of the Australian Labor Party, kicked off this week with a focus on good economic management and “trust”.

“This election is about you,” opened the Prime Minister in his formal pitch to the nation, emphasising that voters have a decisive choice to make. “A choice between an economic recovery that is leading the world, and a Labor opposition that would weaken it, and risk it.”

Albanese in reply focused his address on the government’s lack of vision and called on voters to have a “sense of optimism and a desire for a better future”.

Australia’s Covid-19 response has received criticism for being one of the strictest in the world, but polls have consistently shown local popular support.

A 2021 Lowy Institute poll found that 95% of Australians rated the country’s response to Covid-19 as having performed ‘very well’ or ‘fairly well’, one of the highest ratings globally. Similarly a Roy Morgan poll of people living in Victoria, the state which experienced a total of 246 days in lockdown, found high support for political leadership during the pandemic.

Given widespread support, very few political parties have positioned themselves against Australia’s Covid-19 policies, with the exception of the United Australia Party, a Right-leaning populist effort launched by mining magnate Clive Palmer.

The United Australia Party is estimated to have spent nearly $30 million on a mass media campaigns focusing on responses to the pandemic, yet thus far there’s little to show for it. Although few polls include the minor party, an ongoing Essential poll puts their national support at just 3%.

The Morrison government has been plagued by scandals unrelated to the pandemic, including allegations of sexual misconduct by key Ministers and staffers as well as two major natural disasters this year and in 2020. That puts the government’s moderate climate change policies back in the limelight.

Similarly, Albanese kicked his campaign off with a minor gaffe on Day 1 when he couldn’t rattle off the figures for employment and interest rates in a presser.

This emphasises the relatively austere nature of Australian political campaigns. While the French election looks to be a grand ideological battle between nationalism and globalism, the Australian federal race is focused on dry topics of fiscal responsibility.

Early commentary has already noted that the similarity in policies and rhetoric by both parties, which could leave voters with little substantive choice come election day. Both of the major parties face some leakage of support to minor parties this election including movements from the Labor party to the progressive Left party The Greens and from the Liberal and National coalition to One Nation, Australia’s nationalist party.

The latest polls indicate a likely Labor win, but the split is still close enough for a last minute upset.

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Bennie History
Bennie History
4 months ago

I find it quite shocking that COVID hasn’t become a political issue in the Australian election this time around.
Australia is a country that shares the Western values mindset of liberty and democracy, yet they implemented the strictest lockdown measures of almost any “Western” country.
For them to go through such lockdowns and still manage a 95% approval rating is frankly astonishing. Time will only tell if the Australian people will continue to allow this much government influence in their lives or perhaps some movement for change will come along instead.

Orlando Skeete
Orlando Skeete
4 months ago
Reply to  Bennie History

It is very disappointing. I think the public has been distracted with some shiny things lately, sporting events, concerts etc so they all seem to believe that things are back to normal and covid restrictions are a thing of the past. Many of them don’t seem to realise that unvaccinated people still can’t work or attend restaurants, bars, museums, libraries and all of that good stuff in the state of Victoria. I think the first time they’ll take notice again is when pointless restrictions start inconveniencing them, but by that point it will be far too late

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
4 months ago
Reply to  Orlando Skeete

The inconvenience is tedious – I thought we were past having to show proof of vaccination when I went to a cafe with a friend yesterday, so didn’t take my ‘phone. But no, we still do, and wear masks.

I suspect it’s the British inheritance – we’re good at putting up with things. We grumble, but we fall in line with the resigned solidarity of the put upon. We’re not Americans.

The other thing is the background of good economic conditions. People are just generally happier when unemployment is below 4% (which you can have if you print a few hundred billion dollars and push them into the economy). People would be a bit more generally irritated and ready to demand change if the economic situation were worse.

David Simpson
David Simpson
4 months ago

Clearly Oz needs to be exposed to Johan Anderberg!

Kieran Saxon
Kieran Saxon
4 months ago

It shows how deep people bought into the fear pushed by governments. Hugely dangerous.

Kevin Casey
Kevin Casey
4 months ago

I don’t think that any country is immune to the “fear” factor and the state of Victoria’s Dan Andrews who presided over the worlds longest and most draconian lockdowns is a case in point. After all that he still has a winning poll rating of 60%. The other factor contributing to the general acceptance was the federal government’s $750 a week payment for covid relief to those who had been stood down due to losing there jobs due to covid.

R Wright
R Wright
4 months ago

The pandemic has shreddedcmy respect for the Australian people. Instead of rugged individualistd it turns out they’re actually a bunch of sissies.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
4 months ago

Failure of character on behalf of Australians. Next time your government lets you out to play, we’d appreciate it if you didn’t do the patented, down-to-earth cobber shtick when you’re in our countries. You’re no mates of ours.