Nearly 90% of Australians want government to step in on energy costs, poll finds

Survey shows strong support for lowering prices by limiting exports and imposing windfall profits tax on gas companies

Australians overwhelmingly back government intervention in the energy sector to bring down prices, with a new poll finding support for limits on exports and a super profits tax on gas companies.

As the government confirms that “all options are on the table”, new polling from the Australia Institute shows that 86% of those surveyed support the government stepping in, either through export controls or a windfall profits tax, or both.

The findings from the survey of 1,001 people, undertaken last week, comes after the Treasury secretary, Steven Kennedy, also backed the need for intervention in the sector. Kennedy said the war-induced price shock required a temporary response that was not inflationary.

The Greens leader, Adam Bandt, has written to the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, calling on him to adopt the party’s proposal to use a super profits tax to pay for a freeze in electricity prices, arguing it meets “all of Dr Kennedy’s prescriptions”.

On Tuesday, Albanese said the legal advice underpinning the Greens’ proposal was “completely unclear”, but Bandt said the policy was “clearly constitutionally valid”.

According to the Australia Institute poll, four in five Australians (80%) support imposing export controls on gas exporters if they do not meet local demand. Only 7% were opposed.

Support was strong across political lines, with 84% of Coalition voters backing export controls, 83% of Greens voters and 78% of Labor voters. It was also consistent regardless of state, with support in the four biggest states ranging from 78% in NSW to 82% in Queensland.

The poll also finds that nearly three-quarters of Australians (71%) want to see the government introduce a new windfall profits tax on gas. Just 12% were opposed to this.

A preamble put to those surveyed explained that the international price of gas was at record highs due to the war in Ukraine, and companies exporting Australian gas were making windfall profits.

It said the Australian government could be making at least $20bn from a windfall profits tax on gas.

Greens voters were most likely to support a new windfall tax (79%) compared to 72% of Coalition voters, 71% of Labor voters and 51% of One Nation voters.

One in four said they didn’t know or weren’t sure (23%).

Overall, two-thirds of Australians backed both measures, while 16% supported export controls but not a new windfall profit tax. A small number of those surveyed (6%) wanted to see a windfall profits tax on gas but not new export controls.

Matt Grudnoff, senior economist at the Australia Institute, said Australia had a “gas greed crisis”, and companies were profiting while households were struggling.

“The gas industry has gotten away with too much for too long. It is well past time for the government to step in,” Grudnoff said.

On Wednesday, Treasury officials confirmed they were working on proposals for a variety of possible measures, including a new super profits tax on the resources sector, which is benefiting from surging profits as a result of the war in Ukraine. A working group of departmental secretaries across multiple departments is preparing options for government consideration, with the finance minister, Katy Gallagher, saying all options were on the table.

There are widespread expectations that the government will introduce a new mandatory code of conduct for the sector being developed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, along with some kind of price trigger to increase supplies of affordable gas to the domestic market.

The looming government intervention comes after the budget forecast electricity price hikes of 56% and gas price increases of 44% over this financial year and next.

“It is having really significant impacts on manufacturers, on big business, on small business, and they are saying to us they won’t be able to keep operating,” Gallagher told the Senate economics committee.

“This is the reality, this is the real world. It is unsurprising that companies would prefer the government doesn’t get involved … but we are living in pretty extraordinary times and the government has to make decisions across the economy.”

In question time on Wednesday, shadow treasurer Angus Taylor targeted the government over cost of living increases, saying the budget would see Australian families $2000 worse off by Christmas.

The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, accused Taylor, the former energy minister, of being “more responsible than anyone else in this place for the fact that energy prices are going up”.

“There are two people in the world most responsible for what we are seeing in electricity prices, one of them sits in the Kremlin and the other sits over there,” Chalmers said about Taylor.


Sarah Martin Chief political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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