Sunday 20 Sep 2020 | 02:09 | SYDNEY
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About the project

The Lowy Institute conducts significant research on Australia's diplomacy, and its long-standing public opinion polling program, the Lowy Institute Poll, has become an important input into Australian foreign policy since 2005. The Institute also runs the Australia-Papua New Guinea Network, an innovative public diplomacy project to foster people-to-people links between the two countries.

Australia is one of the most highly globalised nations on the planet and extremely dependent on an effective and active diplomacy. In a region undergoing rapid and transformational change, where shifting power balances are creating uncertainty about the existing regional order, Australia’s security and prosperity rely heavily on its international networks and relationships with both near neighbours and geographically-distant allies.

Research on Australia's diplomatic network

The Lowy Institute has conducted ground-breaking comparative research on Australia’s diplomacy and that of like-minded nations. It focuses on Australia's diplomatic network and the resourcing of its international policy infrastructure. It has also produced influential studies on public diplomacy, digital diplomacy, and consular affairs. The Institute’s work has been instrumental in shaping a parliamentary enquiry into Australia’s diplomatic network,  providing independent, non-partisan policy options to steer Australia’s diplomatic future. In 2016, the Lowy Institute released the Global Diplomacy Index, an interactive web tool which maps and ranks the diplomatic networks of all G20 and OECD nations. The interactive allows readers to visualise some of the most significant diplomatic networks in the world, see where nations are represented – by city, country, and type of diplomatic mission – and rank countries according to the size of their diplomatic network.

Australia-Papua New Guinea Network

In an important public diplomacy initiative, the Institute runs the Australia-Papua New Guinea Network, a program funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to foster people-to-people links between Australia and Papua New Guinea. For more about the Australia-Papua New Guinea network and its activities, access the site here.

The Lowy Institute Poll

To inform the public debate on Australia's foreign policy, the Institute has conducted annual polling of Australian public opinion on foreign policy since 2005. The annual Lowy Institute Poll has become one of the Lowy Institute’s flagship publications. It is the leading tracking survey on Australian foreign policy, providing a reliable vehicle for understanding Australian attitudes towards a wide range of foreign policy issues, while being independent and methodologically rigorous. Over the course of the past decade the Poll has uncovered significant shifts in public sentiment, including towards our most important neighbours and partners. It has tracked attitudes on contentious international issues ranging from climate change to war in the Middle East.

The annual Poll is entirely funded by the Lowy Institute to ensure its ongoing independence, and its questionnaire and results are thoroughly reviewed by one of Australia’s most experienced polling experts, Sol Lebovic, the founder and former managing director of Newspoll. Data sets are deposited with the Australian Social Science Data Archive where they are available free of charge for public scrutiny.

One of the best ways to explore the data from our twelve years of polling is through our interactive site. Access the interactive here.

Alternatively, to download the poll reports for each year, click on these links:

In addition to its Australian polling program, the Lowy Institute has conducted influential polls in several of our most important neighbours in Indo-Pacific Asia, including India (2012), Indonesia (2006 and 2011), New Zealand (2007 and 2012), China (2009) and Fiji (2011).



Alex Oliver
Director of Research
Natasha Kassam
Research Fellow, Diplomacy and Public Opinion Program

Latest publications

Lowy Institute Poll 2020

The 2020 Lowy Institute Poll, conducted as the COVID-19 crisis was unfolding across the globe, reveals unprecedented changes in Australian attitudes to the world around us, including towards the United States, China, threats and the economy.

Politics comes first in China's agony

In an opinion piece originally published in the Financial Review, Natasha Kassam argues that China's biggest concern in dealing with the new coronavirus is maintaining stability and keeping its grip on information.

New Year on Australia’s fire ravaged coast

This was supposed to be an idyllic week on the east and south coasts of Australia, when thousands of families traditionally set off after Christmas for their beach holidays at houses, caravan parks and campgrounds scattered down our long, magnificent coastline. 

We were among the hordes headed south from Sydney. There had been fires in the previous weeks, and some warnings to stay away. But our holiday was planned, the existing fires seemed to have abated somewhat, and we abandoned caution and set off anyway. We made one good decision that day, leaving my children – two young adults and one teenager – at home, due to join us on New Year’s Day if the coast was (literally) clear. The common message from friends in the country and on the coast as we made our way down was the need to support local communities down there; many rely on January tourism for their livelihoods.

Our reliance on information via the internet and broadband communications left us exposed. Nothing was working, mobile phone coverage was almost non-existent. Emergency services’ websites were inaccessible. Fridges warmed, ice melted, houses heated up.

The smoke haze was thick, but not much worse than it had been in Sydney in the weeks leading to Christmas. The beaches were pristine and the water cool. But then the heat came on New Year’s Eve, the plumes of bushfire smoke over the area became bigger and darker, the power supply was cut, and with it, all communications. Our reliance on information via the internet and broadband communications left us exposed. Nothing was working, mobile phone coverage was almost non-existent. Emergency services’ websites were inaccessible. Fridges warmed, ice melted, houses heated up. Our New Year’s Eve celebration with friends down the road was spent by candlelight, warily eyeing the coastline to the north, dotted with fires which flared up as darkness fell. Messages from family (via Facebook’s messenger service, which apparently uses very little data, allowing short text messages to get through) informed us that the road out of the town and back to Sydney was closed in both directions.

After an uneasy night, we ventured down to the town. We were touched by small acts of human kindness. The thoughful local bottle-shop owner who handed out free ice while supermarkets were closed. The locksmith who came to help unlock an electric gate which had stuck closed, leaving us unable to get our car out of the driveway if we needed to leave quickly. People shared stories on the street. Anxiety was palpable. There was nothing much we could do. We had food and water, but little appetite.

My children sent messages wishing us happy new year, and asking us what we’d done during the day. Read, walked, watched, fretted, was my response. We sat in the car listening to the local ABC radio coverage. That coverage – comprehensive, human, informative – felt like our best friend over those two days when nothing much else was getting through. That, and the Rural Fire Service with its exhausted volunteers out there fighting blazing fire fronts on our behalf.

These first days of 2020 have been terrible, but the worst is apparently yet to come with temperatures and winds set to rise this weekend. What appears to be half the state of New South Wales and much of Victoria is on fire. The federal government’s response seems to have struggled to strike the right tone with communities affected by the disaster. People who have lost their properties or worse – friends or colleagues killed in the fires – are visibly and viscerally angry. At their own plights, but also those of their communities and their strained fire-fighting services, many of which are staffed by exhausted volunteers who have been battling fires on many fronts for months.

The federal government has so far painted the crisis as a natural disaster, and a matter primarily for state government emergency services to handle in coordination with federal agencies such as the Australian Defence Force. There has been a seeming reluctance at a federal level to link the fires, and the drought which preceded them, directly to climate change or Australia’s climate policy. Early indications of the government’s policy responses are a focus on hazard reduction (reducing fuel loads around homes and residential areas). The government has reiterated the current policy of adhering to existing targets under the Paris accords, citing Australia’s small contribution to global emissions and the limits of its ability to counter rising emissions from the largest carbon-emitting countries. In the context of this fire crisis, this stance risks inflaming tensions among the more than half of Australians (according to Lowy Institute and other polling) who see climate change as a serious and pressing problem and who seek stronger action from government.

We managed to leave the South Coast in the early hours of 2 January when the main highway – the only way out – was opened briefly in the middle of the night. For much of the way up the coast, burning embers, fallen logs, and glowing tree trunks lined the road. Every side street was barred by police or fire trucks, hinting at the devastation behind the roadblocks. I silently lamented my foolish decision to travel south, placing an additional potential burden on local emergency authorities.  

Our lost, longed-for beach holiday is now a distant regret. What's left is grief for our ravaged countryside. 

We are holding our breaths for what is to come tomorrow.


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