- Dan Andrews used taxpayer-funded polling then kept it secret
- Critics have said such research is a misuse of taxpayer funds
Explosive new documents have revealed Victorian Premier Dan Andrews used secret taxpayer-funded polling to decide on whether to stick with brutal Covid lockdowns.
He did so while claiming to be following ‘health advice’ to guide the state’s response to the coronavirus, including one of the world’s longest lockdowns of 112 days in 2021.
Mr Andrews’ critics have previously said such research misused taxpayer funds, and that the government has form using public money for political gain.
The polling was done QDOS, which is owned by Labor strategist John Armitage. It has been paid more than $2million in taxpayer money since 2016 to carry out community polling for the Andrews government.
The bombshell findings were unearthed in almost 200 pages of documents released under Freedom of Information regulations after a long battle to keep them secret.
The Andrews government kept its appeal against releasing the documents going until November’s state election came and went without them being made public.
The documents obtained by The Australian reveal that focus groups in regional and city areas in July and August 2020 were questioned on Mr Andrews’ performance.
People’s responses to health messages and the 5km travel restriction were also gauged in the research done QDOS.
Company owner John Armitage reportedly boasts of his company’s skill in ‘changing public opinion’ and its ability to ‘squeeze, pump and stir’ public view points.
A QDOS briefing from a focus group held in Colac, 150km south-west of Melbourne, on August 5, 2020 found support for Mr Andrews.
‘Sentiment in these groups was similar to earlier rounds and these people were considerably more likely to jump to the defence of the government and Dan Andrews,’ it found.
The problems with hotel quarantine leaks, which triggered a deadly second wave of the virus in Victoria, was found to have taken some ‘gloss’ off the government, but only up to a point.
‘People have become less likely to freely offer support for Dan Andrews but if he is criticised by one person a bigger number stridently come to his defence,’ QDOS found.
‘We can reasonably conclude that the government and the primary spokesperson, Dan Andrews, still have credibility and … confidence.’
QDOS told the cabinet and the Department of Premier and Cabinet that Mr Andrews was still ‘highly regarded’ by the public despite the hotel quarantine disaster.
‘Actions taken now reinforce the competence brand already well established, even with the knowledge of poor hotel quarantine,’ it found.
Despite all the money spent on the polling, the findings have mostly stayed secret until now due to strict confidentiality clauses – generally only those closest to Mr Andrews were briefed on the results.
An Andrews government spokesperson told The Australian that ‘This community feedback helped us understand the most effective health message carriers in our efforts to keep the community safe, support our health workers, and encourage people to get vaccinated and save lives during a one in a 100-year pandemic.’