Right now in Victoria, optimism is in short supply

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Victorians are perhaps becoming accustomed to being disappointed.

During the first couple of waves of coronavirus, we pored over daily case numbers, scrutinising every cluster and clinging to the words of experts as we desperately attempted to intellectualise a way out.

Victorians are perhaps becoming accustomed to being disappointed.Credit:Luis Ascui

Back then the collective hope was that we would drive case numbers to zero and then keep the door firmly locked, allowing the state to return to relative normality.

And for a few months in late 2020 and early 2021, our lives did get back on track.

Then the Delta wave hit and our hopes were dashed. After all that hard work. For a couple more months we once again battled to tamp the case numbers back to zero.

But once again, the virus took off, first in Sydney, then in Melbourne via a couple of removalists.

At a certain point during the second part of 2021, Victoria, following NSW, transferred its collective optimism from lockdowns to vaccination as a pathway out.

This time we fixated on the daily number of jabs, as the state crept towards target thresholds for reopening. Life would again return to normal, we told ourselves.

And for a short period, we did get another dose of normality. People were back in bars, restaurants and shops, kids returned to classrooms, and we caught up with friends and family across the nation.

Then the vaccine-resistant and wildly contagious Omicron strain emerged. Right in time for Christmas and the holiday period. Health authorities were clearly worried, recommending stricter rules such as density limits, a ban on dance floors and tougher work from home directives.

Long lines of people wait to get a COVID-19 test at a Bourke Street clinic.Credit:Paul Jeffers

They warned that even marginally slowing the spread of the virus would help the hospital system cope. This time, however, the Andrews government – having created the impression there would be no more lockdowns – kept Victoria open for business.

And once again, our hopes have been dashed. Case numbers have exploded, hospitals are buckling under the strain and Victorians are now coming to grips with what a “code brown” means.

There may not be an official lockdown and there may only be the barest restrictions in place, but there is once again a sense of crisis and fear gripping the state. RATs are in short supply, businesses can’t get the staff they need to stay open and our health system is barely coping.

This time the collective hope is not about driving case numbers to zero, or even vaccination (though third jabs are now the order of the day). It is simply that the Omicron wave will swiftly crash over the state and dissipate in late January or early February, allowing us to once again return to relative normality.

Whether this turns out to be the beginning of the end for the virus is unclear. What is becoming clearer is that after two years of extraordinary effort and a rollercoaster of reward, anxiety and crushed hope, our collective reservoir of optimism could finally be drying up.

This was reflected in the latest Resolve Political Monitor, published this week in The Age. Only 24 per cent of Victorians polled in November and January said the outlook for the state would get better, while 30 per cent said things would get worse. Indeed, Victoria is now the most pessimistic jurisdiction in the nation.

Despite this, Andrews is performing strongly, with Labor’s primary vote a whopping 10 percentage points ahead of the Coalition’s (41 to 31 per cent).

Psephologist Kevin Bonham reckons this roughly translates to a two-party preferred vote of 59 to 41 per cent Labor’s way. And that, he suggests, is a conservative estimate.

State Opposition Leader Matthew Guy.Credit:Luis Ascui

The gap is even bigger (and growing) in the preferred premier stakes, with Daniel Andrews leading Matthew Guy by 17 percentage points (47 to 30 per cent).

For a government nearing the end of a second four-year term, 10 months out from an election, it is an enviable position.

But the bigger question for the government – and indeed the opposition – will be how things play out from here. The sense of crisis has so far suited the Labor government.

It might seem like a contradiction, but it is a truism in politics that unless a government is in real trouble, an inherent sense of anxiety and fear about what might lie ahead often (though not always) trumps any optimism that a better alternative might lie ahead.

Right now in Victoria, optimism is in short supply. All the while, after a scrappy couple of years, the state opposition has done little to demonstrate it represents a better alternative. The federal government’s performance would have done little to help the Coalition brand.

This has left Labor in a strong position to comfortably win the November election.

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