Nearly two-thirds of Australians believe the Commonwealth and states have not collaborated well during COVID-19, and support for political leaders has dropped dramatically since February, a new study suggests.
A poll of 1000 Australian voters conducted for the McKinnon Prize in Political Leadership also found regional voters were drifting away from the major parties.
Complaints centred on the national vaccine rollout (76 per cent), border closures (73 per cent) and quarantine (70 per cent). But 64 per cent of respondents listed financial support offered by governments as the strongest part of Australia's COVID-19 response.
McKinnon Prize ambassador Simon Crean, a former Labor leader, said the figures showed Australians were frustrated by a lack of collaboration between the Commonwealth and states.
"The experience has been a wake-up call, and I hope it's responded to positively," he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison hoped the national cabinet, introduced in March 2020, would replace COAG. But after it devolved into squabbling - over internal borders, the Commonwealth's share of hospital funding, and the national vaccine rollout - Mr Crean said no one still believed it was a long-term solution.
"If we haven't been able to cooperate in this crisis, what makes you think you're going to get a better understanding [in the future]?" he said.
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The number of Australians who believed political leaders performed in line or better than their expectations dropped to 60 per cent, having stood at 84 per cent in February.
Mr Crean said the early days of national cabinet were not marred by "the blame game", but recent tension was a "necessary consequence" of the system not working as it should.
"The concept was terrific. People were responsive to it. But as time's gone on ... they've become very frustrated with the fact that it hasn't worked," he said.
"When you look at the leaders that they've marked up, they've given ticks to strength in state leaders despite the lack of collaboration. But what they would really like is more collaboration."
What a voter considered the most important was largely shaped by where they lived. Victorians were particularly unhappy with the vaccine rollout (80 per cent), with Western Australians most critical of border closures (81 per cent).
NSW residents were most satisfied with financial support on offer (60 per cent), but were more critical of national cabinet than Victorians.
Mr Crean said COVID-19 had unmasked deficiencies in the system, but also highlighted key services Australians relied on. One of those areas was mental health, into which both state and Commonwealth governments have poured funding.
But Mr Crean said a more holistic approach was needed to cope with long-term demand, including clear employment pathways for budding mental health professionals.
"It's been the silent pandemic, [and] everyone's now acknowledging the impact," he said.
"[But] what's the pipeline we're putting in place to find more places in universities, to find more courses that respond to it?"
Splintering support in the regions
The survey also uncovered a split between regional and metropolitan voters over support for the major parties.
Just 32 per cent of regional participants reported they had voted for the Liberals, Nationals or Labor, compared to 44 per cent in capital cities.
Australian elections have increasingly produced minority governments, or slim majorities exposing governments to threats from the backbench.
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That has been particularly obvious on climate change, used by internal factions to bring down every prime minister since Kevin Rudd.
The opposition on Monday challenged the prime minister to take a vote to the floor of parliament, saying it would ensure majority support with the backing of the Liberal Party.
Mr Crean said he was "staggered" Australia was still embroiled in the debate, given there was "so much common ground" between the Liberal and Labor parties.
"Even if the Nationals were on board, you'd still have to get it through the Senate. Why default it to the independents if you can find the common ground across the aisle?" he asked.
Mr Crean believed Tony Abbott, who rolled Malcolm Turnbull over climate change before launching a ruthless campaign against Mr Rudd and Julia Gillard, was a turning point for the role of opposition leader.
"[We've] seen too much antagonism, too much of the message that says the role of an opposition is to oppose everything, and too much of a government believing they can crash through on their own," he said.
"We've got to turn back from that."
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