Friday, February 12, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

Confidence man
Public trust in the Morrison government is beginning to wear off

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison visiting CSL’s vaccine manufacturing facility in Melbourne today.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison visiting CSL’s vaccine manufacturing facility in Melbourne today. Image via Facebook

Victoria is headed back to lockdown, with Premier Daniel Andrews announcing that the whole state would enter stage-four restrictions for five days from midnight tonight. In making the announcement, Andrews tried to rely on whatever is left of state solidarity and trust to soften the blow. “Today hurts,” his statement read. “Victorians know, better than anyone, just how deeply.” (We really, really do.) Prime Minister Scott Morrison – also in Melbourne, though no doubt joining Victorian MPs in rushing to Canberra ahead of the coming parliamentary sitting week – this morning called for a “proportionate response”, telling reporters he had “reason for confidence” that Victoria would get on top of it. He chose not to comment on what actions might best be taken by the premier, however. “I think that is the right thing for public confidence.”

Confidence is what we all need right now, but the boost received by governments of all levels over the course of the pandemic may be beginning to wear off, with new Australian National University research showing confidence in the Morrison government has declined in recent months. The latest survey – part of the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods’ COVID-19 monitoring program – notes “a statistically significant and moderately large decline in confidence in the federal government between November 2020 and January 2021”. While Australians are still 78.9 per cent satisfied with how the country is managing the pandemic, public confidence in the Morrison government has dropped from 59.9 per cent to 54.3 per cent – an early warning sign of a larger drop, it suggests. 

It’s not a general crisis of faith, either. The survey showed that Australians still have high levels of confidence in other institutions, including hospitals and the health system, police, public servants and, of course, their state and territory governments – the latter still sitting at 70.4 per cent confidence, a figure that has remained reasonably consistent over the past year, despite “missteps”. Respondents, the report suggests, are aware of the burden premiers have taken on in managing quarantine and restrictions, but have confidence in their ability to manage them. Victorians, notably, had more confidence in their state government than the general population, at 72 per cent (and less in the federal government, at 51.5 per cent). We Victorians are gonna need that faith to weather this week’s snap lockdown, with research suggesting citizens who trust their governments are more likely to accept difficult policy and act for the wider good.

Australians are, however, more worried about their financial wellbeing, with a five-point jump in financial distress, believed to be linked to the lack of clarity about the level of federal government support for business and welfare recipients beyond March. Confidence in the federal government down, financial distress up. Correlation or causation? Professor Nicholas Biddle, one of the study’s co-authors, told Guardian Australia that it might not be just a temporary dip for the Morrison government, saying there were “early signs that confidence may be waning as the pandemic response enters a new phase – something for the federal government to keep a close eye on”.

The Morrison government might also want to keep a close eye on an even more worrying set of results, with the latest Taking the Pulse of the Nation survey revealing one third of the community is unsure about receiving the COVID-19 vaccines – a far greater amount of people than last time the question was posed. The latest fortnightly survey from the Melbourne Institute raises concerns over whether Australia will have enough of the community vaccinated to create herd immunity, with 19 per cent saying they would not be vaccinated and 14 per cent saying they did not know if they would. Those saying they were willing to have the jab dropped from 74 per cent in October to 66 per cent in early February. Of those refusing or reluctant to be vaccinated, 65 per cent considered vaccines unsafe or were worried about side effects, while 37 per cent said they either don’t believe the vaccine will work or don’t trust it.

The Morrison government has maverick MP Craig Kelly to blame for at least some of those concerns, and it may soon have another problematic politician on its hands, with controversial chef and anti-vaxxer Pete Evans announcing (at 1am on Friday) that he will run for the Senate at the next election with the Great Australian Party – led by former One Nation senator Rod Culleton. When asked by reporters if he was concerned having a high-profile anti-vaxxer running in an election would undermine confidence in the vaccine rollout, Morrison said, “That all depends how much publicity you choose to give him. I’m not going to give him any, so I don’t propose you do that.” When asked on Sky News about potentially sharing a chamber with Evans, Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said, “I trust the Australian people to make sure that’s not the case.”

But trust goes both ways. It’s a big ask from Birmingham, when Morrison also spent his morning dismissing very genuine concerns about the Peter Dutton grants controversy, refusing to hold his minister to account. “There’s nothing in front of me that says he’s done anything outside the rules,” he told reporters. It comes as former Nationals deputy Bridget McKenzie faces a Senate committee hearing on the “sports rorts” affair, the first time she’s spoken about it in such a forum. So far, she has used her appearance to attempt to exonerate the prime minister, taking responsibility so he doesn’t have to. Birmingham trusts Australians to do the right thing, but how can we trust the Australian government to?

“As recent political history shows, emissions reduction targets must be enshrined in law if we’re to have any hope of reaching them.”

Tim Stephens, a professor of international law at the University of Sydney, argues that Australia’s 2050 climate targets should be legislated.

“Despite demand uncertainty, investors have expressed confidence in the industry.”

Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon writes that coal has a strong future in Australia, arguing that those who say the energy system is in transition are only trying to make that true.

The Coalition’s climate standoff
The prime minister is trying to calibrate his climate policy to better fit into a post-Trump world, but he faces a conservative revolt on his own backbench. On the other side, Australia faces trade sanctions if it doesn’t implement serious emissions reduction targets.

The cost of the federal government’s six-month extension of the garrison and welfare services contract for Nauru – $10,000 a day for each detainee.


“A report commissioned by NSW’s Independent Gaming and Liquor Authority (ILGA) this week recommended the cards – which could help combat problem gambling and money laundering – be introduced.”

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro is at odds with his Liberal colleagues over the introduction of cashless gaming cards, saying that it is “not the time to strangle pubs and clubs with red tape”.

The list

Fake Accounts’ impending publication generated much hype in the insular community of online literary comment, because how often do you get to see if your critical nemesis could actually do your job better than you? One imagines (I imagine) Jia Tolentino hovering at her MacBook with bated breath, ready to strike with malicious precision should it happen that Fake Accounts is anything less than brilliant. It will be small comfort for Tolentino that Oyler’s novel is really quite good.”

“Lounging in a fold-out picnic chair is a small, old Chinese woman. She’s wearing a white linen shirt and a sunhat with palm trees printed on the brim. Three people crowd around her, holding umbrellas to block out the sun. She looks calm. She could be at a family luncheon – except for the bike lock bolted around her neck, chaining her to a fence. She’s holding a sign written in Chinese, with an English version leaning against the seat next to her: ‘Coal burns our future.’ Underneath her linen shirt is a Stop Adani T-shirt.”

“It’s a bit hard to reconcile the leather-jacket-wearing, classic-car-driving Galea of today with the stories he relates of a restless teen obsessively practising magic and eyeing it as a means to escape. But the pressure he felt to conceal his sexuality as he made his first steps into life as a performer weighed heavily. For Galea, that outsider mentality and the impulse to make art are impossible to prise apart. ‘You always feel like the odd one out,’ he says. ‘And what I’ve found out, as long as I’ve been in this business, is that everyone in the arts feels like that. I think that’s what pushes you to create as well.’”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

Scott Morrison is welcomed to the US Capitol, by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, September 22, 2021

Plus ça change

Morrison’s cackhandedness leaves him at the mercy of our allies, as French fury grows

Police watch protesters at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance, Wednesday, September 22, 2021


Melbourne’s earthquake presages faultlines in the Coalition over ongoing lockdown protests

Strange bedfellows

The battlelines are blurring as Melbourne’s lockdown protests heat up

Nuclear fallout

The waves from Australia’s cancelled submarine contract keep building

From the front page

Scott Morrison is welcomed to the US Capitol, by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, September 22, 2021

Plus ça change

Morrison’s cackhandedness leaves him at the mercy of our allies, as French fury grows

Cover detail of Andrew O'Hagan’s ‘Mayflies’

There is a light

Andrew O’Hagan’s ‘Mayflies’ and what might endure from our irresponsible but spirited youth

Scott Morrison in the sheds after the NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the North Queensland Cowboys in Sydney, July 25, 2019

Birth of a larrikin

The disguised rise of Scott Morrison

Black Summer at Currowan

Lessons from Australia’s worst bushfires