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ABC News
ABC News
Tyne Logan and Evelyn Manfield

Will COVID-19 matter in Federal Election 2022?

For some businesses, the pandemic has delivered an unexpected uptick. (ABC News: Robert Koenig-Luck)

As the nation gets ready to cast its vote in the federal election, the number one issue that has affected Australians over the last term of government is no longer front of mind for many of us.

But as life returns to normal in Australia, the impact of the pandemic lives on for many.

From labour force shortages to the economy and health care, COVID-19 has created boons and wounds across the country — and these have shaped what people now need from their leaders.

So as we move into an era of living with the virus, how has it changed what people think, feel and need from the federal government?

Vulnerable people 'seen as collateral'

According to Vote Compass data, just 1 per cent of Australians think COVID is the most important issue this election.

But while many have already moved on, the virus is still front of mind for Adelaide woman Belle Owen.

Belle Owen says she feels like the immnocompromised and disability community is being left behind as Australia transitions to "living with COVID". (ABC: Brant Cumming)

As COVID restrictions ease around Australia and masks come off, Ms Owen is doubling down every time she leaves the house.

Living with a disability, she is considered vulnerable to the virus and the decision to just leave the house comes with a pressing question.

Ms Owen said, for the most part, the pandemic was "handled really well".

But as Australia opens up, she feels forgotten about.

"Now we’re coming towards the end of the pandemic, [vulnerable] people have been seen as collateral," she said.

Belle Owen feels as though she is being left behind as Australia transitions to a post-COVID lockdown era. (ABC News: Evelyn Manfield)

COVID-19 has also shaped what she is looking for from leaders.

It has also shored up for her that she wants a cautious government that prioritises community health and safety.

These days Ms Owen opts for spending time outdoors and has found joy in growing vegetables in a community garden near her house. (ABC News: Evelyn Manfield)

“I'm really hoping that, when the election is settled and we have a government formed, they can go away and get a group of people together who have that lived experience, and work with [the disability] community to prioritise community safety," she said.

Spotlight on good economic management

While the impacts of the coronavirus were brutal for many, for others it has shown what works well.

Throughout much of the pandemic, Western Australia and South Australia maintained a cautious state border approach. (ABC News: Hugh Sando)

WA was the last state in the country to open its borders to the virus.

The decision meant total deaths and hospitalisations from COVID-19 have remained comparatively low.

And behind the state's closed border, many businesses were riding high.

Mike Bonomelli has been scrambling to find enough workers to cater for his booming metal works business. (ABC News: Robert Koenig-Luck)

Inside Mike Bonomelli’s sheet metal business, Melbon, staff have been kept busy by a 30 per cent increase in business.

With the iron ore price high and interest rates low amid a strong economy, Mr Bonomelli took on 10 new staff during the pandemic.

"If you’re asking from a personal level, our company’s enjoyed good times and our staff have enjoyed lots of overtime.”

The government's asset write-offs also allowed him to refit his factory with new equipment worth $3 million.

Foreseeing a labour force issue, Mr Bonomelli approached the Perth Karen community and took on five new apprentices and 10 new staff in total.

Melbon took on 10 new staff, including Karen refugee Sayray who has begun her metal fabrication apprenticeship. (ABC News: Robert Koenig-Luck)

But labour is still an issue.

“I think we’ve had an ad running three months now and we haven’t had one person,” he said.

“I really need the government to have some incentive to fast forward international people coming here on some sort of visa, and cutting the red tape to bring in the trades that we need.”

Mr Bonomelli said the last two years have demonstrated the benefits a strong economy and swift decision-making can bring.

A strong economy, high iron ore prices and government asset write-offs have favoured Mike Bonomelli's sheet metal business throughout the pandemic. (ABC: Robert Koenig-Luck)

And looking ahead to the federal election, he wants more of that.

COVID's labour shortage hangover

Not all people in WA have reaped the rewards of WA’s hard border.

For Jen Bird and James Weeding, who operate the family-owned 4WD tourism company Kimberley Wild, it has been brutal.

James Weeding and Jen Bird run an outback tour business in the Kimberley.  (ABC: Andrew Seabourne)

The business helps to showcase sights including Broome, the Bungle Bungles and Motchell Plateau.

Ninety per cent of their visitors come from outside WA.

“We’ve been very lucky in WA from a day-to-day life point of view we’ve been COVID-free,” said Ms Bird.

“However, with a business that depends so much on interstate and international travel, it’s been tough.”

WA's hard border hit tourism businesses such as Kimberley Wild hard over the past couple years. (Supplied: Kimberley Wild)

They are finally gearing up for a dry season without border interruptions, but it is not all behind them.

“And as a seasonal business, we do employ a lot of backpackers, and I think that will be a big challenge this year.”

While business was booming for some during the pandemic, it was tough for others.  (Supplied)

Mr Weeding said they wanted the government to help address labour force issues, and provide long-term support for tourism as they try to navigate out of the last two years.

“I would like to see, personally, from the federal government with tourism, perhaps some policies and ideas that stretch beyond a three-year term,” Mr Weeding said.

“And the things that affect tourism, like climate and the environment,” Ms Bird said.

The pandemic in the rear-view mirror

But they are also ready to move on from COVID, just like Adelaide hairdresser Ali Lucia.

Ali Lucia is glad to see close contact rules gone as they caused a flurry of client cancellations. (ABC: Brant Cumming)

As restrictions ease across South Australia, the immediate impacts of COVID are becoming less of a worry for Ms Lucia.

She said she was glad to see the end of close contact rules, as they had affected not only her clients but herself too.

"Sometimes you will get a message, you know, an hour before a client's meant to rock up saying I've just been informed I'm a close contact, I have to reschedule," she said.

Ali Lucia says the virus won't be on her mind when she heads to the ballot box. (ABC: Brant Cumming)

But she considers herself one of the lucky ones, keeping her job and now taking on her first mortgage for a brand new home.

With that her focus, she said she was now ready to move past the pandemic, and it would not be a big factor in how she votes.

“And COVID is just something that we have to get on with.”

Will COVID-19 matter in federal election 2022?
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