John Connor is CEO of the Climate Institute.
The past year has been historic in Australia, with around 300 businesses beginning to pay for their greenhouse gas emissions for the first time under carbon laws that had a troublesome gestation and a difficult birth.
The last year and the couple before it were chock full of scare campaigns, rent seeking and tough political battles in what Professor Ross Garnaut described as perhaps one of the worst examples of public policy debate in Australian history. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that polls conducted by the Climate Institute and the Lowy Institute have tracked a decreasing desire for climate action as well as confusion and opposition to the complex policy solutions of carbon pricing and emissions trading.
The decline has come since the somewhat heady days of 2006 and 2007, which John Howard described as a perfect storm of support for climate action.
I don't need to remind readers of the roller-coaster ride on climate and clean energy policy since then, perhaps the most significant juncture of which was the shattering of bipartisan support for emission trading as the most cost-effective policy solution in late 2009. This helped plunge public discourse into partisan and ideological trenches that would sink deeper as the ALP first deferred and then re-introduced carbon pricing legislation after the remarkable outcome of the 2010 election.
The triangulated policy development process between the ALP government, the Greens and the independents added zest to what already was a strong brew of policy intrigue.
The findings in the 2013 Lowy Institute poll, with data collected in March, show a rebound of support for climate action. It also reveals declining (but still majority) opposition to the legislation which it describes as 'a fixed price on carbon that will then lead to an emission trading scheme'.
Last week The Climate Institute released some data from its Climate of the Nation poll, to be released in full in a few weeks, which asked different questions regarding whether carbon pricing legislation should be repealed, and asked about support for a double dissolution on the legislation. It also explored whether the forthcoming election was a 'referendum of on the carbon tax' by asking about the reasons behind Coalition voting preferences.
Our data, collected in June, found a significant drop in the numbers supporting repeal to 37%, with 36% uncertain and a fairly steady 27% opposing repeal. Support for carbon pricing remains soft but opposition is decreasing. It may be that the double whammy of complexity in the Lowy Institute Poll of 'carbon pricing' and 'emissions trading' reinforced a stronger negative view, but polls from Essential, Nielsen and others have tracked a similar decline in opposition.
The lack of intensity in opposition is highlighted in views on whether there should be a double dissolution should the Coalition win and be unable to get carbon pricing laws abolished. This was opposed by 43%, supported by just 34%.
Our probing of the reasons behind Coalition voting preference revealed some telling results on the question of whether the upcoming election is indeed a referendum on the carbon tax. Similar to the Lowy Institute's findings, management of the economy was by far the most significant issue, followed by perceptions of lies and broken promises. The next most significant was 'the carbon tax lie' followed by a number of issues before 'the carbon tax' itself, nominated in the top two reasons by only 13%. This reinforces the view that voter concern is higher around the process than the policy, which remains poorly understood.
Our forthcoming report will delve into these matters in greater detail and is also backed by the results of rolling focus groups conducted over the last 12 months. I invite Interpreter readers to look out for our next Climate of the Nation as a companion to this important Lowy Institute Poll.
Photo by Flickr user Tim J Keegan.