A majority of Australians back Scott Morrison’s moves to build strong ties with the United States and Britain to buttress Australia’s national defence, but respondents in the latest Guardian Essential poll also worry the new Aukus partnership will strain relations with China and Europe.
The survey of 1,094 respondents shows 62% believed Australia was correct to pursue the nuclear submarine deal with the US and the UK, while 54% agreed with the statement: “The Aukus partnership is in Australia’s best security and economic interests.”
But 55% thought the arrangement would further inflame relations with China – and after the French government’s furious reaction to Morrison’s decision to cancel a $90bn submarine contract with the Naval Group with minimal warning, 48% thought the new partnership would endanger trade deals with France and the European Union.
With a federal election looming, likely in the first quarter of 2022, the latest poll shows the Coalition currently enjoys a 13-point lead over Labor when it comes to which party voters trust more to handle national security policy. The Coalition also enjoys a five-point lead on management of international relations.
While the new Aukus submarine pact was clearly a response to China’s increasing militarisation in the Indo-Pacific – a trend that destabilises the region and imperils US interests – the latest poll suggests most Australians do not favour confrontation with Beijing.
A majority of respondents (66%) characterised China as a “complex relationship to be managed”. Around a quarter (24%) characterised China as “a threat to be confronted” and 10% said Australia’s relationship with China is a “positive opportunity to be realised”.
When asked about the impact of the nuclear submarine deal on domestic security, 45% said the partnership would make Australia more secure, while 55% of respondents either said the arrangement will make no difference or it will make Australia less secure.
On voter trust to manage climate change, Labor has a 13-point lead over the Coalition.
While Morrison was in the US last week meeting Joe Biden and Boris Johnson, and engaging in defence talks with the Quad – which is an informal grouping of the US, Australia, India and Japan – divisions erupted within the Coalition about whether the government should adopt a net zero emissions reduction target by 2050.
The prime minister wants to unveil new climate commitments before the Cop26 summit in Glasgow.
With the debate about net zero expected to span the next few weeks, the latest poll shows a majority of Australians would support government intervention to expand renewable energy (66%), with only 8% supporting coal or gas plants.
With the new submarine pact sparking a renewed conversation about whether or not Australia needs a domestic nuclear power industry, 19% of respondents would also favour government support for nuclear power plants.
When respondents were asked to what extent they would support or oppose using nuclear energy sources, 47% supported nuclear powered submarines (21% opposed) and 48% supported nuclear power (24% opposed), while 29% said they would support nuclear weapons (38% opposed).
Voters were also asked about their attitudes to the management of the Covid-19 crisis.
The latest poll indicates the Berejiklian government has recovered some of its lost standing with voters. Approval in the last survey stood at 46% (down from a high of 75% in March), but in the latest data, with the premier signalling the end of lockdown is close for vaccinated residents, 53% of respondents approved.
In Victoria, as Delta cases continues to climb, sentiment has gone in the other direction. In the last survey, 50% approved of Daniel Andrews’ management of the pandemic, but that has dropped six points in a fortnight to 44%.
The prime minister’s metrics were steady, with 45% saying the federal government’s management of the pandemic was good, and 30% saying poor.
Voters were also asked about the roadmaps for reopening in the two states once vaccination thresholds reach 70-80% of adults. In NSW, 48% of respondents said they understood Berejiklian’s plan and had confidence in it, while 40% lacked confidence in it. In Victoria, 36% said they understood the Andrews plan and had confidence in it, while 50% lacked confidence in it.
With Covid vaccination rates continuing to climb around the country, particularly in the lockdown states and the Australian Capital Territory, the number of respondents in the Guardian Essential survey declaring they will never be vaccinated is down to 7%. But that figure is significantly higher among voters planning to support someone other than the major parties.