“Policymakers may be surprised to find more Australians [47 per cent] want the federal government to reduce emissions than prevent blackouts or keep prices down” writes the Institute’s executive director Michael Fullilove.
Sentiment on climate change reveals a generational divide, with nearly two thirds (62 per cent) of 18 to 44-year-olds prioritising emissions reductions, compared with 33 per cent of over 45-year olds.
The influential survey of 2130 respondents was conducted over a fortnight from March 12, ahead of the demonstrations in Hong Kong which have brought hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets.
Australians are feeling the pressure of city life with 71 per cent saying cities are too crowded. And there are signs of cooling sentiment towards continuing strong migration rates.
While 67 per cent agreed that immigration overall “has a positive impact on the economy”, 40 per cent said newcomers were taking jobs away from other Australians (up five points from 2016) and 48 per cent felt migrants were a “burden” on the social welfare system.
Again a generational divide is apparent. Only 21 per cent of those aged between 18 and 29 felt there were too many new arrivals, compared with 53 per cent of those aged over 30.
The government’s position on border protection appears to enjoy majority support, with 28 per cent saying border protection policies harmed the country’s international reputation.
Sentiment towards China has suffered a dramatic decline with 32 per cent expressing lack of trust in Beijing (down 20 points on last year), reflecting apparent concern about foreign influence in domestic affairs. More than three quarters (77 per cent) supported the idea that Australia should “do more to resist China’s military activities in our region” even if this were to affect the two countries’ economic relationship.
But far fewer (34 per cent) had an appetite for military intervention by the Australian Defence Force if Beijing were to launch a military strike against a neighbour over disputed islands or territories.
And while half agreed that Australia should stake more on maintaining strong relations with the US even if this harmed relations with Beijing, a sizeable minority – 44 per cent – believed the reverse to be the case, that higher priority should be given to relations with China.
Explaining this, polling research fellow Natasha Kassam said: “Australians are quite pragmatic and the economic drawcard that China offers is [still] fairly irresistible.”
The government decision to ban Chinese tech giant Huawei from having a role in Australia’s 5G network divided opinion, with 44 per cent agreeing that protection from foreign state intrusion was paramount.
However, 56 per cent disagreed: 28 per cent who gave stronger weight to consumer prices and another 28 per cent who prioritised the best technology being available.
Australians remained relatively sanguine about the economy, despite slow growth and rising Sino-American trade tensions. Sixty five per per cent of respondents declared themselves “optimistic” or “very optimistic” about the economy’s performance over the next five years.
But that figure was 9 points down on the 2017 survey, and there remains a degree of suspicion about foreign investment, with 39 per cent saying it represents a “critical threat”.
New Zealand leader Jacinda Ardern was the highest rated international leader, rated favourably by 88 per cent, compared with 58 per cent for Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Deborah Snow is a senior writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.