Taxpayer-funded COVID-19 polling was justified: Andrews
Premier Daniel Andrews has justified gauging public sentiment of him and his government's COVID-19 health messaging on the dime of Victorian taxpayers.
Research company QDOS provided feedback on Mr Andrews and the government during Melbourne's 112-day second lockdown in 2020, according to documents published by The Australian.
Briefing notes, released by the Department of Premier and Cabinet after a freedom of information stoush, show attitudes were also surveyed towards restrictions such as the five kilometre travel radius and nightly curfew.
The information was based on focus groups held in Melbourne and regional areas between July and August that year.
QDOS reported hotel quarantine leaks had taken some "gloss" off the government in a briefing note from a Mornington-based focus group, while another group in Colac was "more likely to jump to the defence of the government and Dan Andrews".
"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," it said.
"We can reasonably conclude that the government and the primary spokesperson, Dan Andrews, still have credibility and the confidence of the people who will trust, support and follow the decisions that need to be taken."
The Andrews government has paid more than $2 million since 2016 for QDOS to conduct community surveys, according to The Australian.
Mr Andrews, who fronted 120 consecutive daily press conferences during the second wave, denied the surveys were commissioned for political reasons and said they were to ensure critical health information reached the public.
"If the message doesn't get through, people die. We had a wildly infectious virus and no vaccine," he told reporters at parliament on Wednesday.
"We made very difficult decisions. They were not popular. They were designed to be effective in keeping people safe, and that's exactly what we did."
A Victorian government spokeswoman confirmed attitudes were polled towards other government leaders and public health officials, including Brett Sutton, Paul Kelly, Greg Hunt, Scott Morrison, Martin Foley and James Merlino when he was acting premier.
"This community feedback helped us understand the most effective health message carriers," she said in a statement.
"Programs like this are not unusual in emergency situations, and we expect all levels of government were conducting research to help shape health communications."
Mr Andrews said he wasn't aware of whether the feedback informed decisions on who delivered public health updates, which were aired live on television each day during the crisis.
Opposition Leader John Pesutto said he didn't buy Mr Andrews' suggestion the polling was for the sole purpose of public health messaging.
"This was about telling Daniel Andrews and his government what politically would work for them," he said.
"We went through lockdowns and smashed business, destroyed many livelihoods and put people through deep periods of distress, and yet he was spending their money, our money, on political polling."