That the environment and energy are big political issues in Australia at the moment will be unsurprising to most. The Victorian State election this past weekend saw a change in government, away from the Liberal Party and their backward policies. And according to a new poll commissioned by WWF, an overwhelming majority of Australians are in favour of policies the Liberal government are looking to scrap.
Australia is very much a two-party state — albeit with two parties right of centre and relatively similar in many regards, Liberal (yes, the irony is mostly lost on Australians) and Labor. These two parties run for National and State elections, and will invariably end up with the majority of the vote. There are several spoilers — The Greens and Clive Palmer’s Palmer United (yes, he named it after himself) — but for the most part, everything comes down to whether you vote Liberal or Labor.
A Countrywide Swing
WWF-Australia recently commissioned ReachTEL to conduct a survey into Australian views on environment and energy policy in the country. The results, much to the Liberal Party’s displeasure, is very much in favour of everything they are currently fighting against.
59.8% of the 5,036 residents surveyed across Australia believe that “investment in renewable energy power” by the Federal government is “Very Important”, with another 24.4% believing it to be “Somewhat important”. Only 10.2% believed it to be “Not important”, while the stereotypically Australian “Unsure” vote came in at 5.6%.
The second question was whether respondents thought “the current renewable energy target of 41,000 GWh, which is roughly 24% of renewable energy by 2020, should be increased, decreased or stay the same?” It’s a bit of a poorly-written question, as it assumes a certain knowledge that most Australians simply don’t have — ie, what is it at the moment, and what should we decrease it to? However the responses were still promising: 56.3% believe that it should be increased, 32.5% believe it should stay the same, and only 11.2% thought it should be decreased.
“Aussies deserve cleaner air and less pollution. They want their children to enjoy Australia’s environment just as they did. That’s why we’re seeing such strong support for sustainable renewable energy,” said WWF-Australia National Manager Climate Change, Kellie Caught. “Cutting the Renewable Energy Target makes no sense. It will see Australia’s carbon pollution go up, sustainable energy jobs lost and investment shut out.
“It’s also out of line with public sentiment which is clearly in favour of supporting growth in Australia’s renewable energy sector, including wind and solar.”
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The Issues With Polls
I am always hesitant when reporting polls commissioned by organisations such as WWF who have a strong bias one way or the other. And while the poll was itself conducted separate from the bias, I am still wary when talking about it, which is why I focus more on presenting the questions and figures, rather than trying to interpret them too strongly one way or the other.
Undoubtedly these figures look as if they represent a strong public shift away from the Liberal policies designed to support the fossil fuel industry. 80.2% support rooftop solar, 70.2% support large-scale solar plants, and 63.7% support wind farms — a strong show of support, but how strong is that support really? Do these respondents support wind farms near their house? Or must it be out of sight? Do they support rooftop solar enough to get it themselves?
Maybe the most interesting question asked was the last question on the ReachTEL poll — most interesting because it represents the only question the respondents have a personal-stake in: When asked whether they would “be more or less likely to vote for a party that supports keeping or increasing the current Renewable Energy Target”, over half said they would be “More likely”, while 33.9% said their vote was “unchanged”.
These results present possibly the interesting points of view, given that only 11.7% said they were “Less likely”, falling well into the minority. That means a third do not see the Renewable Energy Target as an important issue to their voting decision, while 54.4% believe that it is not only an important issue to their voting choice, but so important they would change their vote accordingly.
Maybe They Do Care!
For some time I have felt that the Australian public was getting the short end of the stick when it came to energy and environmental policy in our country. The media, as is it’s right, focuses on the hot-button issues and those participants most vocal and entertaining — it’s not a surprise, it’s just disappointing. As a result, the facts and realities can sometimes be swept under the rug, in favour of ratings.
While these most recent poll numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, so to speak, they do speak to the possibility that Australia is not only hearing the facts, but that Australians care about the facts.
Problem is, the next Australian election must be held on or before the 14th of January, 2017. It’s entirely likely it could be called earlier, but with a possible-two years at his disposal, one wonders just what current Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott could accomplish in that time.