Daniel McCulloch and Finbar O’Mallon
(Australian Associated Press)
The vast majority of Australians were affected by the summer’s bushfires, with the crisis smashing confidence in Scott Morrison and his government.
More than three in four Australians were either directly or indirectly impacted by the fires, new research shows.
The Australian National University study confirmed the prime minister’s approval rating took a beating over the bushfires, with less than one-third of Australians confident in his government.
The survey of more than 3000 people found 14 per cent were directly impacted by lost, damaged or threatened property, or were advised to evacuate.
Those not directly impacted included people who were exposed to smoke, forced to change travel plans or felt worried by the fires.
Respondents were asked in January what they thought of Mr Morrison, ranking him negatively at 3.92 out of 10, down from 5.25 last June.
The government also lost votes, with 35 per cent of people saying they would vote for the coalition in January, down from 40 per cent in October.
Only 27 per cent of Australians said they were confident or very confident in the government.
The prime minister insists his focus is on what needs to be done after being criticised for his bushfires response, citing hazard reduction burns and call-out powers for Defence personnel.
“I’ve got a thick skin and there was quite a pile-on over the summer and I know people were feeling pretty raw because I was there,” Mr Morrison told Triple M radio on Tuesday.
“I went to these communities, I saw people, I listened to them and I felt both their great comfort and their thanks, but also in some cases their rage.”
He later added to the list, citing mental health supports and farming grants for bushfire victims.
“We even put the roof back on the Mogo Zoo,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Melbourne.
“It’s action that matters and it’s action we’ve been delivering.”
Lead researcher Nicholas Biddle said indirect contact with the bushfires often had a greater effect on attitudes than solely direct effects.
Professor Biddle said the drop in confidence over a short period of time meant challenges not only for the government but also for Australia’s political system.
“A good political system needs to have confidence from its population,” he told AAP.
Nearly half of Australians now believe environmental issues are at least the second most important for the country.
Women and young people are the most likely to be worried about the environment, with people outside of capital cities less likely to be concerned.
The survey found about one-third (37 per cent) of Australians supported new coal mines, down from nearly half (45.3 per cent) in June.
“Peoples’ attitudes do return not long after exposure to these national disasters, but it doesn’t always return to pre-exposure levels,” Professor Biddle said.
“The extent to which it returns appears to be influenced by the political discussion or the policy response.”