Just one-third of surveyed Australians believe the Morrison government needs to do more to help citizens stranded overseas, according to a new poll gauging the country’s pandemic response.
The results of the Lowy Institute poll, released on Monday, are likely to entrench the sense of abandonment among about 36,000 Australians who are registered with the government as wanting to return home.
But with the federal budget looming on 11 May, the poll also finds strong community support for helping Australia’s Pacific neighbours vaccinate their populations against Covid-19.
About 83% of the 2,222 respondents said Australia should help Pacific island countries to pay for such vaccines. About 60% believed Australia should do the same for south-east Asian countries.
Community attitudes to the plight of stranded citizens were measured with a question asking whether the federal government had done too much, not enough, or about the right amount to bring Australians home from overseas.
About 33%, or a third of the sample, said the government was not doing enough, whereas 59% viewed the response as “about the right amount”. The remaining respondents either said too much (7%) or that they didn’t know.
The polling was conducted between 15 and 29 March, meaning it predated the Australian government’s decision last Tuesday to suspend flights from India and the introduction of penalties including fines and jail time for anyone who tries to return home from India.
Epidemiologists last week questioned why the government had banned all flights from India, describing it as “a kneejerk reaction”, after analysis by Guardian Australia revealed the country had fewer reported coronavirus cases per capita than either the United States or the United Kingdom during their respective Covid peaks.
The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, said after a national cabinet meeting on Friday the measures restricting travellers from India would be reviewed before 15 May.
The federal Labor party and state premiers have been stepping up their calls for the federal government to take responsibility for quarantine, and to set up purpose-built facilities across the country amid concerns about the hotel quarantine system.
The opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, has accused Morrison of breaking his commitment to bring home stranded citizens by Christmas last year, but the prime minister has said tens of thousands have been able to return.
Morrison has also said arrivals are limited by quarantine capacity, and likened the list of Australians registered as wishing to return as “a cup that keeps filling up”.
The number registered as wishing to return to Australia as of Senate estimates in March was about 36,200, including 4,860 identified as vulnerable Australians. Officials said the top five countries where such Australians were located were India, UK, US, the Philippines and Thailand.
In April, the United Nations human rights committee requested Australia promptly allow the return of two vaccinated citizens from the United States, as the body prepares to consider their complaints about the impact of Australia’s strict caps on international arrivals.
Assisted by the leading human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC, the citizens argue a clash with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which says “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his [or her] own country”.
Campaigners have described the situation as “dire” for a lot of Australians who were unable to return home, and say there is a sense of “losing hope”.
The Lowy Institute’s poll also tested community attitudes to Australia’s outbound travel ban, under which citizens are not allowed to leave the country without applying for a special exemption – an approach backed by 41% of the sample.
But 40% of respondents said Australians who had received Covid-19 vaccinations should be free to leave, while 18% said all Australians should be free to leave without any conditions.
“Older Australians aged 60 and above are more likely to say that once vaccinated they should be able to leave the country, with 50% agreeing with this approach,” said Natasha Kassam, the director of the Lowy Institute’s public opinion and foreign policy program.
“By contrast, only 36% of Australians aged 18-59 say that vaccinated Australians should be free to leave now.”
The poll also reconfirmed that most Australians were satisfied, overall, with the way federal, state and territory leaders had handled the pandemic.
Almost all the Australian adults surveyed (95%) said Australia has handled Covid-19 well, including 65% “very well” and 30% “fairly well”. That represented a 22-point jump in “very well” responses compared with the same Lowy Institute poll a year ago, in the early weeks of the pandemic.
Those results were in the context of questions to Australians about how well or otherwise a range of countries had handled the pandemic. Two-thirds of the sample (66%) said Taiwan had performed well or fairly well. About 45% said China had performed well or fairly well – an improvement of 14 points on this measure since the same poll last year.
The Covid-19 results, based on a nationally representative online and telephone survey by the Social Research Centre, are part of the broader annual Lowy Institute poll of Australian attitudes to foreign policy issues set to be released in June.
The poll of 2,222 Australian adults has a margin of error of about 2.1%.