The vast majority of Australians were affected by this summer’s horror bushfires, with the crisis smashing confidence in Scott Morrison and the Coalition.
More than three in four Australians were either directly or indirectly impacted by the fires, research shows.
The Australian National University survey of more than 3000 people also found the bushfire crisis had caused a spike in concern about the environment, and a plunge in support for new coal mines, even among Coalition voters.
The Prime Minister’s approval rating took a beating over the bushfires, according to the study, with less than a third of Australians confident in his government.
More than 14 per cent of respondents to the survey were directly affected by lost, damaged or threatened property in the bushfires, or had been advised to evacuate.
Those not directly affected included people who were exposed to smoke, forced to change travel plans or felt worried by the fires.
Respondents were asked in January what they thought of Mr Morrison, ranking him negatively at 3.92 out of 10, down from 5.25 last June.
The government also lost votes: 35 per cent of people said they would vote for the Coalition in January, down from 40 per cent in October.
Only 27 per cent of Australians said they were confident or very confident in the government.
Mr Morrison insists his focus is on what needs to be done after being criticised for his bushfires response – including his decision to go on a family holiday to Hawaii as the fires escalated. On Tuesday, he cited hazard reduction burns and call-out powers for Defence personnel as his focus for action.
“I’ve got a thick skin and there was quite a pile-on over the summer and I know people were feeling pretty raw because I was there,” Mr Morrison told Triple M radio.
“I went to these communities, I saw people, I listened to them and I felt both their great comfort and their thanks, but also in some cases their rage.”
He later added to his list of bushfire achievements, citing mental health supports and farming grants for fire victims.
“We even put the roof back on the Mogo Zoo,” Mr Morrison said in Melbourne.
“It’s action that matters and it’s action we’ve been delivering.”
Lead researcher Nicholas Biddle said indirect contact with the bushfires often had a greater effect on attitudes than solely direct effects.
Professor Biddle said the drop in confidence over a short period of time meant challenges not only for the Morrison government but also for Australia’s political system.
“A good political system needs to have confidence from its population,” he said.
According to the survey, nearly half of Australians now believe environmental issues are at least the second most important for the country.
Women and young people are the most likely to be worried about the environment, with people outside of capital cities less likely to be concerned.
The survey found more than a third (37 per cent) of Australians supported new coal mines, down from nearly half (45.3 per cent) in June.
“Peoples’ attitudes do return not long after exposure to these national disasters, but it doesn’t always return to pre-exposure levels,” Professor Biddle said.
“The extent to which it returns appears to be influenced by the political discussion or the policy response.”