“Voters blame governments, not the weather, for the nation’s water crisis, and they are generally more angry with John Howard over his handling of the environment than they are about WorkChoices,” George Megalogenis wrote in The Australian on the weekend as he unpacked the latest Ipsos Mackay Mind & Mood report on community attitudes.

Further research carried out as part of the National Forum’s What the People want surveying puts water as the nation’s number one issue. Graham Young explains at Online Opinion how this is being reflected in the polls.

“Our polling suggests voters are not ‘relaxed and comfortable’,” he says, “and that the economy is partly to blame for John Howard’s predicament. Not the economy of today, but the economy of tomorrow. While interest rates may have been the key economic issue last election, this election it is water.”

Young’s research finds that climate change and drought are the most important issues to Australians.

“If they are not fixed then there will be no economy to boast about,” he reports.

“This is a bigger risk for most than the possibility of interest rates rising.

“Labor has credibility on the climate. The Coalition generally has it on the economy. When the economy is viewed through the prism of climate it is undermined, even though it is the Coalition’s key strength. This helps to explain the sudden slump in its popularity independently of the accession of Kevin Rudd.”
According to Young, the water issue even explains the government’s continued strong showing in Western Australia relative to the rest of the nation.

“The conventional argument for the high Coalition vote in WA is that it has to do with AWAs,” he says.

“This has always seemed a bit tendentious to me. How many AWAs are there, and outside the mining communities how many voters do they really affect? Is this significant enough to explain a vote for the Coalition significantly higher than the rest of the country?

“Water and drought provide a better explanation. The drought is an eastern Australian affair. Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide all have water shortages and are only starting to take hard medicine now.

“Agriculture in WA is not as dependant on irrigation as it is in the east,” Young concludes.

“While the bread basket of the nation – the Murray Darling irrigation ditch – has been over-exploited and is widely seen as an environmental disaster that may never recover.”

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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