The first major national political poll of 2022 revealed a significant drop in support for Australia’s ruling party coalition and a slight lead for the opposition Labor Party on Tuesday, a trend that could doom Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s re-election prospects.
As prime minister, Morrison must call a national election sometime before May. The decline in support for his Liberal-National Coalition (often referred to as just “the coalition”), Australian observers noted this week, follows the implementation of draconian Chinese coronavirus quarantine and vaccine mandate requirements as well as the international embarrassment surrounding the detention and deportation of the world’s top men’s tennis player, Novak Djokovic.
Morrison’s government granted Djokovic a visa to attend the Australian Open, a tournament the Serb has won more than any other player in history, but abruptly detained him in Melbourne’s international airport claiming his documentation for a medical exemption to Australia’s vaccine requirement for foreigners was invalid. Djokovic spent the better part of a week in a migrant detention facility before a judge ruled that he could stay. He then practiced for the tournament on Australian Open courts before Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used his personal power to deport him the day before the tournament began.
Hawke argued in court that Djokovic must leave the country because his alleged opinions were a threat to Australia’s national security.
The poll published Monday, by Resolve Political Monitor, depicts the results of questioning that occurred between January 11 and 15, after Djokovic won his case to stay in court but before Hawke used his personal power to deport him.
According to the Australian Associated Press (AAP), the poll showed 35-percent support for the Labor Party, compared to 34 percent for the Morrison coalition.
“The coalition’s vote fell by five points from 39 to 34, while Labor increased its primary vote by three points from 32 to 35 since the last poll, conducted in November,” the AAP observed.
Morrison’s personal support remained above that of Labor leader Anthony Albanese, but his typically comfortable lead against Albanese had also vanished, the poll showed. Morrison now leads Albanese 38 to 31 percent, a seven-point difference, compared to leading 40-29 percent in November.
“According to the poll, Mr Morrison’s net approval rating is at minus nine, unchanged from the previous poll with 41 per cent saying he was doing a good job as prime minister, while 50 per cent said he was doing a poor job,” AAP relayed.
The Djokovic scandal occurred on the periphery of mounting Australian dissatisfaction with the Morrison government from both supporters and opponents of heavy-handed government measures to contain the Chinese coronavirus. As the Canberra Times noted, the omicron variant has caused a dramatic spike in coronavirus cases in the country, resulting in coronavirus deaths “now topping hundreds a week, hospitalisations soaring to almost 5,000, nearly 400 people in intensive care, and case numbers impossible to accurately discern.”
The decline in support had begun months ago, however. A poll published in the Australian in November saw Morrison’s approval rating drop to the lowest levels since March 2020, the month that the Chinese coronavirus outbreak erupted as an international concern. At the time, Australians were largely concerned with outsized bushfires consuming much of the country. The November survey, conducted jointly with the firm Newspoll, found support for the parties largely unchanged but support for Morrison personally dropping.
A month later, a poll by Guardian Essential found only 46 percent of Australians supported Morrison. While two points higher than the 44 percent support he received in the Newspoll survey, the Guardian noted its poll found a 19-percent decline in approval of Morrison’s performance as prime minister.
“A year of Guardian Essential data reveals the high-water mark of Morrison’s voter approval was in February, when 65% of survey respondents said they approved of his performance, and 28% said they disapproved,” the British newspaper observed.
Approval polls of Morrison alone document a different form of opinion than the poll released Tuesday, in which respondents were given the option of choosing between Morrison and Albanese. The Guardian Essential poll did ask respondents to compare the two and found Morrison still had an 11-point lead over the Labor leader.
“But Morrison’s standing on the better prime minister metric is now 10 points lower than it was at the start of 2021. Back in February, Morrison led Albanese as ‘better prime minister’ by 52% to 24%,” the newspaper reported.
The Djokovic scandal angered Australians on either side of the coronavirus vaccination debate because the government initially issued Djokovic a valid visa – outraging Australians who noted that citizens had been subjected to extreme lockdown and quarantine policies and banned from entering the country if abroad, but a fabulously wealthy foreigner obtained a visa. On the other side, anti-mandate Australians decried the spectacle of imposing a private medical decision on a foreign or subjecting them to significant career harm. Had Djokovic won the Australian Open this year, it would have been his 21st Grand Slam victory, a record in the history of tennis. It would have also been his tenth Australian Open win.
Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg confirmed on Australian television on Monday that the government had granted Djokovic a visa, but refused to blame any particular person for doing so.
“As you know, we get a lot of visas, it’s a computer-generated process,” Frydenberg claimed. “It relies on the applicant putting in what they believe their conditions [are]. He said that he had a legitimate exemption, but that wasn’t the case.”
Despite dwindling approval, Morrison’s government has signaled that it will continue antagonizing unvaccinated athletes. Sports Minister Richard Colbeck signaled on Wednesday that the government would similarly deport another athlete, surfing legend Kelly Slater, if he attempted to visit Australia without a coronavirus vaccine series. Slater, he insisted, had “no chance of getting into the country.”
Frydenberg, meanwhile, addressed the poor poll results this week with tennis analogies, according to the AAP.
“We’re in the first set of a five-set match, and polls come and go,” he told reporters.