Australia talks but who's listening?

June 30, 2021
Students 4 Climate strike in May, Brisbane. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

The ABC’s Australia Talks National Survey was released on June 21 with a special TV event hosted by journalist Annabel Crabb and comedian Nazeem Hussein.

While the questions can be, and were, framed to elicit specific responses, the survey results are interesting in so far as they provide a snapshot of opinion on some important (and some less so) topics. For social change activists it’s food for thought.

This is the second time the ABC has run the survey, which spoke to more than 60,000 people from across the country.

The first survey in 2019 provided information on attitudes to some key global concerns, such as how much money they would be prepared to spend to reverse climate change and how much they trusted the United States to act responsibly, to the more mundane, such as how often they change their bed sheets.

Predictably, the latest survey’s results reflect a variety of opinions.

However, it did provide some insights into important topics, including how people’s lives have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and what they think about capitalism.

People’s growing financial stress was apparent, with four out of five agreeing that the gap between rich and poor is too big. Eighty four percent of those on a weekly income of less than $600 agreed, compared to 74% on a weekly income of more than $3000.

More than 50% were not confident they will have enough savings to retire, although men are slightly more confident than women. This is likely due to the gender pay gap, in which women earn an average of $1562 a week compared to $1804 for a man.

Compared to the 2019 survey, this one showed a much higher percentage of people disagreeing with the idea that if you work hard you can be successful, no matter your circumstances.

While 57% agreed, 52% of young people disagreed, showing an awareness of how systematic disadvantage impacts lives.

A majority agreed that Australia is doing a bad job of supporting people in poverty (72%) and providing affordable housing (76%).

Similarly, a majority agreed that unemployed people are trying hard enough to find work. This view is supported by Australian Unemployed Workers Union research that showed only one job for every 15 job seekers is actually available. Sixty five percent of people think that JobSeeker payments should be higher than the current rate of $44 a day.

Capitalism not so good

The ABC included a question on whether capitalism does more harm than good. A majority of 18 to 49 year olds agreed it did. Those aged between 50 and 74 were more neutral, but still more agreed than disagreed.

The 75 years and older group was only group to disagree more than agree and that was split 43%–41%, with the rest answering neutral or “don’t know”.

This concurs with recent polls that show young people in particular are more dissatisfied with capitalism, although the survey did not ask what alternative they would favour.

Australians are overwhelmingly in favour of larger governments providing better services, the survey found, although Coalition and Pauline Hanson One Nation voters were more likely to disagree.

Trust in politicians is very low, and nine out of 10 people support a federal corruption watchdog: 96% of Labor voters want such a watchdog, compared to 79% of Coalition voters and 94% of Greens voters.

An overwhelming majority from across all parties agree that MPs should resign if caught lying to the public. We know that many politicians, such as Prime Minister Scott Morrison, do not agree.

More than 90% also agree that misinformation is a major issue, more than being able to retire comfortably, drug and alcohol use, mental health issues and job security. Seventy nine per cent agreed that it is harder to know which sources of information to trust.

Do more on climate change

Climate change is a crucial issue, with a huge 68% agreeing it is not being adequately addressed. This is a clear rejection of the federal government’s support for fossil fuels, its push for a gas-based pandemic recovery and Morrison’s embarrassing performance at the World Leaders Climate Summit in April.

The result jumps to 75% when only young people’s responses are viewed, highlighting that young people are very aware of the science and the need to take action now. About 75% of 18–29 year olds are worried about their future, believing they will be worse off than their parents.

About two thirds of those surveyed want an Indigenous voice to parliament enshrined in the Constitution, as the Uluru Statement from the Heart calls for.

Unsurprisingly, Pauline Hanson One Nation voters were the only group to disagree, while Coalition voters were split almost in half.

A similar proportion also think that Australia is failing First Nations peoples, as shown by the ongoing deaths in custody of First Nations peoples. More than half say Australia Day should not be celebrated on January 26.

Questions about the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has affected people were new to this survey.

A majority said that the pandemic helped them develop a clearer sense of their priorities, while one in three said that it had taken a toll on their health and fitness.

While 57% said the pandemic had not affected their mental health, a significantly higher proportion of young people said it had, as those with insecure work lost income.

A majority said their relationships with family had improved over the pandemic. However, few said that their relationships with friends had improved after months of lockdowns and social isolation.

The survey included questions about the US and China. More than half (53%) do not trust the US to act responsibly, a rise of 10% since the 2019 survey.

Australians view Democratic President Joe Biden as a much more acceptable leader compared to Donald Trump, despite the Biden administration continuing many of Trump’s hard-right policies and failing to deliver on campaign promises.

By contrast, 91% said they did not trust China to act responsibly, an increase of 6% since 2019. This is likely to stem from racist conspiracy theories surrounding COVID-19, the federal government’s trade war against China and its participation in war games in the South China Sea.

Who's a feminist?

Despite a surge in the campaign for women’s equality, with more than 100,000 people attending March 4 Justice rallies across the country, only 51% identified as feminists, a small rise (49%) compared to 2019.

However, a majority of women identified as feminists (69%) compared to 34% of men. A telling statistic is that only 49% of women feel safe walking alone at night in their neighbourhood, compared to 81% of men.

Despite all this, a majority said they were “pretty happy” about their future and the future of the country.

[You can see how you compared to others by using the Australia Talks interactive tool here.]

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