Prime Minister Scott Morrison is finally taking a stand against premiers wanting to keep wielding the lockdown weapon against Covid-19 until it is eliminated.
This week several Premiers—most notably Annastacia Palaszczuk and Mark McGowan—have retreated from their commitments under the national cabinet’s agreed transition plan to remove restrictions once vaccination reaches 70 – 80% of the eligible population.
Morrison is saying loudly and clearly that the plan must stand, elimination is unachievable and we must live with the virus.
The Premiers should pay heed to what the people think even if they are wont to ignore Morrison. To gauge public opinion on this and related issues, The Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) commissioned YouGov to poll 1,029 Australians over the age of 18.
The results, Attitudes to a Post-Covid Australia, suggest Australians are unlikely to meekly accept ongoing lockdowns once vaccination reaches critical levels. A sizeable minority of 37% want restrictions ended as soon as practicable, and a further 34% want them ended when vaccine thresholds are met.
On the question of what the thresholds should be, almost half nominated the 80% coverage specified in the national plan and another 18% would settle for a majority of those most at risk being vaccinated. Just 10% of people think we should stay in lockdown until everyone (including children) are vaccinated, though in Western Australia this group is larger at 27%.
The research found that only a small minority of people (13%) believe Australia should wait until Covid has been completely eliminated from the country, and 62% believe it is unlikely Covid-19 will ever be permanently eradicated in Australia.
There is considerable support for so-called ‘vaccine passports’, with 60% approving of their use by state governments to regulate entry to a state and 55% agreeing that businesses should be allowed to demand them as a condition of service or entry to premises. Almost half even go as far as agreeing vaccination should be mandatory under federal or state law.
This may merely reflect people’s eagerness to reach the vaccination targets and translate them into meaningful relaxation of restrictions, but the results also confirm that the pandemic has exposed an authoritarian streak in Australians.
There was strong support for both the current levels and higher levels of restriction enforcement and penalties, with 39% believing penalties are too low against just 14% who think they are too high (47% think they are about right). Also, 46% think enforcement is too lax vs just 14% who think it’s too strict (39% think the enforcement level is about right).
A sizeable minority of 43% was more supportive of government restrictions on civil liberties because of the pandemic, with only 30% saying the pandemic has shown them how important civil liberties really are.
Politicians encouraging people to report their neighbours for breaching the public health orders is likely to have taken a significant toll on social cohesion. Australians may have this idealised view of ourselves as larrikins who don’t follow the rules, but in reality we are a nation of tut-tutting ‘Karens’.
Responses indicated there has been a loss of trust in the government, with 46% saying trust has declined versus 28% who say their trust has increased. The mishandling of the vaccine rollout has doubtless contributed to this loss of trust.
The pandemic has brought a major increase in the role of government in the economy, and we often hear the view that this should be permanent. In this survey, however, only 25% thought the Covid experience shows government should have more control over the economy, while 42% of people believe free markets have responded well to the situation.
There are reasons for both optimism and pessimism in these polling results. Premiers that keep tight restrictions in place longer than there is any clear need are likely to incur the wrath of a majority.
But the results are more worrying when people were asked about civil liberties, enforcement of health orders and trust in government.
Perhaps the fall in trust in government will lead to a greater appreciation of the protections from government overreach over time.
Robert Carling is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies.
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