Will COVID-19 Matter in the 2022 Federal Election?

As the nation prepares to vote in federal elections, the number one issue that plagued Australians during the last term of government is no longer on the minds of many of us.

But as life returns to normal in Australia, the impact of the pandemic lingers on for many.

From labor shortages to the economy and health care, COVID-19 has created benefits and wounds across the country – and these have shaped what people now expect from their leaders.

As we enter an era of living with the virus, how has this changed what people think, feel and expect from the federal government?

Vulnerable people “considered collateral”

According to data from Vote Compass, only 1% of Australians think COVID is the most important issue in this election.

But while many have already moved on, the virus is still on the mind for Belle Owen, a woman from Adelaide.

Belle Owen says she feels the immunocompromised and disabled community is being left behind as Australia shifts to “living with COVID”.(ABC: Brant Cumming)

As COVID restrictions ease in Australia and masks come off, Ms Owen doubles every time she leaves the house.

Living with a disability, she is considered vulnerable to the virus and the decision to simply leave the house comes with a pressing question.

Ms Owen said that, for the most part, the pandemic had been “very well managed”.

But as Australia opens up, it feels left out.

“Now we are approaching the end of the pandemic, [vulnerable] people were seen as collateral,” she said.

Back of woman in wheelchair at community garden
Belle Owen feels left behind as Australia moves into a post-COVID lockdown era.(ABC News: Evelyn Manfield)

COVID-19 has also shaped what she expects from leaders.

It also confirmed to her that she wants a prudent government that puts the health and safety of the community first.

Belle Owen in the community garden.
These days, Mrs. Owen chooses to spend time outdoors and has found pleasure in growing vegetables in a community garden near her home.(ABC News: Evelyn Manfield)

“I really hope that when the elections are settled and we have formed a government that they can go and bring together a group of people who have this lived experience and work with [the disability] community to prioritize community safety,” she said.

Spotlight on good economic management

While the impacts of the coronavirus have been brutal for many, for others it has shown what works well.

A sign at the SA and WA border at dusk.
For much of the pandemic, Western Australia and South Australia have maintained a cautious approach to national borders.(ABC News: Hugh Sando)

WA was the last state in the country to open its borders to the virus.

This decision means that the total number of deaths and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 has remained relatively low.

And behind the closed state border, many businesses were soaring.

Melbon sheet metal
Mike Bonomelli struggled to find enough workers to meet the needs of his burgeoning metalworking business.(ABC News: Robert Koenig-Luck)

At Mike Bonomelli’s sheet metal business, Melbon, staff have been busy with a 30% increase in business.

With the high price of iron ore and low interest rates in a strong economy, Bonomelli hired 10 new staff during the pandemic.

“If you ask on a personal level, our company had a great time and our staff worked a lot of overtime.”

Government asset write-offs also enabled it to refit its factory with new equipment worth $3 million.

Anticipating a labor problem, Bonomelli approached the Perth Karen community and hired five new apprentices and 10 new employees in total.

Sayray wearing a welder's mask on his head.
Melbon has hired 10 new employees, including refugee Karen Sayray who has started her apprenticeship in metal fabrication.(ABC News: Robert Koenig-Luck)

But labor remains a problem.

“I think we’ve had an ad running three months now and we haven’t had a single person,” he said.

“I really need the government to have some incentive to move international people who come here on some sort of visa fast and cut red tape to bring in the trades we need.”

Bonomelli said the past two years have demonstrated the benefits that a strong economy and quick decision-making can bring.

A close up of someone grinding metal with a mask on.
A strong economy, high iron ore prices and government asset write-offs have aided Mike Bonomelli’s sheet metal business throughout the pandemic.(ABC: Robert Koenig-Luck)

And in the run-up to the federal election, he wants more.

The Hangover of COVID Labor Shortages

Not everyone in WA has reaped the rewards of WA’s harsh frontier.

For Jen Bird and James Weeding, who operate family 4WD touring company Kimberley Wild, it’s been brutal.

James Weeding and Jen Bird sitting at the beach in Broome
James Weeding and Jen Bird run a Kimberley outback tour business. (ABC: Andrew Seabourne)

The company helps highlight sites such as Broome, the Bungle Bungles and the Motchell Plateau.

Ninety percent of their visitors come from outside of WA.

“We’ve been very lucky in WA from a day-to-day life perspective, we’ve been COVID-free,” Ms Bird said.

“However, with a business that is so dependent on interstate and international travel, it’s been difficult.”

Wild Kimberley Expeditions
WA’s harsh border has hit tourism businesses such as Kimberley Wild hard over the past couple of years.(Provided: Kimberley Wild)

They are finally preparing for a dry season without border interruptions, but all is not behind them.

“And as a seasonal business, we employ a lot of backpackers, and I think that will be a big challenge this year.”

James Weeding and Jen Bird at Broome Beach with kids
While business was booming for some during the pandemic, it was tough for others. (Provided)

Mr Weeding said they wanted the government to help address labor issues and provide long-term support for tourism as they try to recover from the past two years.

“I would like to see, personally, from the federal government with tourism, maybe policies and ideas that extend beyond a three-year term,” Weeding said.

“And the things that affect tourism, like the climate and the environment,” Ms Bird said.

The pandemic in the rearview mirror

But they are also ready to move on from COVID, as is Adelaide hairdresser Ali Lucia.

Ali Lucia sits on a styling chair
Ali Lucia is happy to see the close contact rules disappear as they have caused a wave of customer cancellations.(ABC: Brant Cumming)

As restrictions ease across South Australia, the immediate impacts of COVID are becoming less of a concern for Ms Lucia.

She said she was happy to see the end of the close contact rules, as they had affected not only her clients but also herself.

“Sometimes you’ll get a message, you know, an hour before a client is supposed to show up, saying I’ve just been notified I’m a close contact, I need to reschedule,” she said. .

Ali Lucia at home
Ali Lucia says the virus will not be on her mind as she heads to the polls.(ABC: Brant Cumming)

But she considers herself one of the lucky ones, keeping her job and now taking out her first mortgage for a brand new home.

With that focus, she said she was now ready to outgrow the pandemic, and that it wouldn’t be a big factor in how she votes.

“And COVID is just something we have to keep going with.”

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Inflation figures force the parties to present their plan to reduce the cost of living.

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