Public trust in the Morrison government is beginning to wear off
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?
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.
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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...
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