Fully vaccinated Prime Minister Scott Morrison is on a British beachside, scoffing down sirloin steak and lobster while surrounded by other world leaders at the G7 summit — with no face masks or social distancing in sight.
Meanwhile, just 5.8 million COVID-19 doses have been administered in Australia, and about 2% of the population are fully vaccinated. We have no vaccine rollout timeframes or goals and no idea when our international borders will open.
The photos have angered residents in the UK who are facing extended social distancing measures as the highly infectious Delta variant spreads.
Many Australian premiers and government officials have been first in line for the COVID-19 vaccine too, sparking outrage. It’s not a good look for any of the leaders — but will it have any impact on politicians’ popularity?
Australia’s with the movers and shakers
ANU political marketing expert Dr Stephen Dann tells Crikey many may excuse Morrison’s G7 trip because it’s perceived as him doing his job.
“We’re not a member of the G7 so it’s one of those questions of why is Australia there,” he said.
Despite the fact there’s little reason Morrison couldn’t dial in virtually, or simply be sent a summary, Dann says the event was likely to work in Morrison’s favour.
“[Morrison’s team] will be leveraging every trick in the book by cropping photos to make us look like we’re important,” he said.
“The idea that they’re trying to convey is that Australia is a big player and that will sell well for his target market who likes to think that despite us having less than the population of London that we’re somehow big movers and shakers.”
Dann says Morrison attending the football, however, wouldn’t go down well with voters because it’s not crucial for his job.
An exclusive vaccine
Morrison being one of the first people in Australia to receive a vaccine — and Pfizer at that — is a different story. He had his first dose on February 21, followed by Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne — who also got Pfizer — and Health Minister Greg Hunt who got the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese, Greens leader Adam Bandt and South Australian Premier Steven Marshall got the Pfizer vaccine shortly after them.
At the time, evidence showed the Pfizer vaccine was more effective at protecting against severe disease than the AstraZeneca. The AstraZeneca vaccine hadn’t yet been linked to blood clots.
“Morrison’s whole thing is his carefully crafted daggy dad, blokey image, and there’s a lot of work going into making the man look ordinary,” Dann said.
“And then he gets this exclusive [shot] that’s not available to anyone else, and there’s no reason as to why.”
Last week Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was criticised for being given early access to the Pfizer vaccine so she could attend the Olympics in Tokyo if necessary. She said she got Pfizer vaccine because the second dose is administered in 21 days compared with 84 for AstraZeneca.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner, WA Premier Mark McGowan and Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein received the AstraZeneca vaccine, but Victoria’s Premier Dan Andrews had the Pfizer jab — although he is under 50. The ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, who is also under 50, says he expects to receive the vaccine later in the rollout.
How will this affect the polls?
ANU political science Professor Ian McAllister tells Crikey any perception of elitism is poorly received by voters.
“Political trust has been declining since 2007 consistently at each federal election,” he said.
Usually when a new party takes office, as the Coalition did in 2013, trust increases.
“That sort of distrust of politicians is already out there, and people are suspicious of political elites.”
Despite the waning trust, seeing premiers and leaders receive vaccine and travel benefits over ordinary Australians was unlikely to have a lasting effect on the polls, McAllister says.
As we saw during the sports rorts affair: “Voters are pretty much inured to some sorts of minor corruption, and when they see it there’s actually not much tangible effect on the vote.”