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Fewer think government should play role in daily life

Fewer Australians believe the federal government should play a role in their daily lives, compared to levels from before the COVID-19 pandemic.

A new report by researchers at the Australian National University found while confidence in the federal government was still strong, fewer people thought the government should play a part in providing essential services.

The survey of more than 3300 people in January was the latest part of the university's COVID-19 Impact Monitoring survey, which had been tracking the impact of the pandemic since early 2020.

Providing health care was the area in which the largest share of respondents thought the government should bear responsibility, with 73.1 per cent saying it definitely had a key role.

That was followed by border control (63.7 per cent) and imposing strict laws on industry to reduce its environmental impact (55.6 per cent).

The study's co-author Nicholas Biddle said support for the roles that government should be taking has been dropping for several years.

"Our index of belief in government was highest in August 2018, dropped a little in 2021 and 2022, then declined substantially between 2022 and 2023," he said.

However, confidence in the federal government has remained high, with 51.2 per cent indicating they were confident.

Last year's federal election led to a large jump in confidence levels in the government, rising from 35.6 per cent in April last year, to 52.9 per cent in August.

Prof Biddle said the high confidence levels in the government had led to the changes in attitudes of the role of the federal government.

"Perhaps because of this satisfaction, Australians do not appear to be demanding a much greater role for government since just prior to the pandemic," he said.

"Apart from support for the unemployed, in many areas, there are fewer Australians that think governments should have a role to play."

The study found those who were more likely to support a strong government role included women, those under 35, those on lower incomes, Indigenous Australians and people with disabilities.

People less likely to support a larger government role included those who hadn't finished year 12, lived outside capital cities and those in high-income households.

The most important issue, according to those surveyed, was the economy, with 44.5 per cent saying it was the top focus.

Interest rates and housing affordability came in at 9.3 per cent, while just 1.3 per cent said COVID was the most important issue.

Nearly 30 per cent of people said they found it difficult to get by on their current income.

"Financial stress is one of the issues most Australians are struggling with," Prof Biddle said.

"Given almost exactly half of Australians think that rising prices were a very big problem, according to the survey, it is an issue that will undoubtedly be front of mind for our political leaders."