The country's stringent policies barely feature on the trail
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.