Australian public felt there was one rule for the rich and one for the rest throughout the pandemic | Clive Hamilton and Myra Hamilton



The furious public reaction to what many saw as the special treatment accorded tennis star Novak Djokovic comes after two years of growing resentment, fueled by stories of very wealthy people and celebrities being granted exemptions from the coronavirus rules.

Djokovic traveled to Australia on Wednesday, apparently having obtained a medical exemption from Tennis Australia and the Victorian government, only to have his visa canceled on arrival on what the Australian Border Force “failed to provide appropriate evidence” for. support its exemption with a requirement to be doubly vaccinated against Covid. It is unclear on what grounds Djokovic, who previously expressed skepticism about covid vaccines, requested an exemption.

Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, the refrain from governments calling for public cooperation has been ‘we’re all in the same boat’, and most Australians have taken the slogan to heart, scrupulously following the instructions.

Yet people began to see evidence that some of those who were wealthy and influential didn’t seem to behave as if they were “in the loop” with everyone. Skeptics called the unit’s chorus a “fantasy narrative” that ignored the social inequalities that were, in fact, exacerbated by the crisis.

For example, in May 2021 a report in the Sydney Morning Herald began: “Elite athletes and their families are given special exemptions to travel to Australia while thousands of citizens remain stranded, sparking allegations of unfair treatment for the rich and famous. “

The story drew dozens of comments from readers complaining about the injustice of the system, including a number such as: “You don’t get super rich, so you can line up with the poor.” “

There have been plenty of other stories posted about wealthy and influential people avoiding lockdowns, quarantine requirements or queues for vaccines.

Reactions to these stories indicate a public perception that elites enjoy freedoms denied to the vast majority who do not share their privileged status.

Resentment is widespread, but how bad? To find out, we commissioned a national survey of a representative sample of Australian adults. Produced by Omnipoll in early December 2021, the results shed new light on public beliefs about the fairness of the implementation of rules related to Covid.

When we asked if wealthy people and celebrities have found ways to get around Covid lockdown rules, four in five (80%) agreed, with 40% strongly agree and only 12% in disagreement. Younger adults were more likely to agree (87%).

We then asked if it was okay to use his connections to bypass Covid’s lockdown rules. 82% disagreed (66% strongly). Seniors (over 50) are significantly more likely to object to people exploiting their relationships (around 90% vs. 75% of those under 35).

Resentment, the feeling that some people are getting an undeserved advantage, has long been recognized as a powerful political emotion. In recent times, its dangers have received much attention in the United States. The popular view that elites receive special treatment can be politically unstable and lead to a social divide, with lasting effects.

The strong public reaction to the perceived “special treatment” by Novak Djokovic seems to have scared the federal and Victorian governments into reconsidering their positions and taking a harder line.

Well they could. Our survey asked Australians if they feel anger or resentment when wealthy people and celebrities receive special treatment. Four in five (80%) report feeling anger or resentment sometimes, 21% feeling it often, 28% sometimes and 31% occasionally.

It has often, perhaps too often, been said that Australia is an egalitarian society that values ​​everyone. One of the main symbols of this egalitarianism is Australia’s universal healthcare system. Research on social attitudes consistently shows strong support for equal access for all when it comes to health services.

Public confidence in universal access appears to have taken a hit due to the elastic application of rules and restrictions during the Covid health crisis.

We asked respondents which of the following two statements best reflects their opinion on the application of the rules in general: “In Australia there is one rule for the rich and another for the others” or “Overall. , the rules are enforced enough in Australia. 51% chose the first and 37% named the second, while 12% could not comment.

Men, college graduates, full-time employees and with higher incomes living in capital cities are somewhat more likely to believe that, on the whole, the rules are applied fairly in Australia.

In other words, those who benefit from the system are somewhat more likely to say the rules are applied fairly, while women, those with low incomes, and those without a university education are more likely. to believe that there is one rule for the rich and another rule for the rest.

The Djokovic affair has once again resurfaced this resentment, and it seems to transcend political and demographic boundaries. A typical reader’s response to the exemption reports was, “This is an absolute insult to every person vaccinated in Australia. Comments and polls in several major news outlets suggest overwhelming support for Djokovic’s visa cancellation.

When Australians struggle through tough times, it is infuriating for a wealthy sports star to be exempt from the country’s vaccination rules – all the more so for the many Australians still separated from their loved ones abroad in due to visa regulations based on vaccination.

Resentment, perhaps “the prevailing mood of our time”, can have corrosive political effects. If ending the pandemic depends on Australians’ commitment to collective enterprise, then the perception that a wealthy few are exempt from the rules can only erode personal commitment to the public good.

Governments which sanction violations of the social contract can expect to be sanctioned at the time of the ballot.

Tin ears lose the elections.


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