Australians are selective about the industries in which they oppose foreign investment, new polling on the issue by Essential Research shows.
Foreign investment in general is more strongly supported by younger voters than older voters, and by more men than women. Men are much more likely to support positive statements about foreign investment than women, and younger voters more likely to do so than middle-aged or older voters.
Attitudes also vary depending on the industry concerned. Fifty nine per cent of voters thought foreign investment in the film industry was a good idea, compared to 12% who opposed it, but 46% of voters thought foreign investment in utilities was bad for Australia, with only 28% saying it was good.
In between are a range of other industries. Agriculture was the other industry with a net negative attitude to foreign investment: 41% believe foreign investment in agriculture is bad for Australia while 36% support it. Foreign investment in banks only receive limited net support, 35-31%, but voters were happier with foreign investment in mining (49-26%), manufacturing (42-30%) and the media (36-26%), although the media had a very high “neither good nor bad” rating of 30%.
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When asked about specific sources of foreign investment, voters turned negative and, it seems, xenophobic. There was no identified source of foreign investment voters were happy with, in net terms. European corporations fared best — 38% of voters approved of their investment, while 42% disapproved; 38% also approved of investment by US corporations, with 43% disapproving. There was similar support for investment by a government investment fund owned by Norway, with 34% approval and 42% disapproval.
But investment by south-east Asian government-backed corporations was approved by only 27% of voters, with 52% disapproval, and Chinese state-owned enterprises approved by only 23%, with 60% disapproving. Older voters were very hostile to both forms of investment, with 70% or more of over 55s disapproving of such investment.
On qualitative attitudes, voters reacted most positively to the statement “Foreign investment is beneficial for Australia but foreign governments should not be permitted to control Australian businesses” (74%), followed by “Foreign investment reduces Australia’s control of its economy and should be restricted” (59%). When the issue of xenophobia was couched more openly, however, it attracted less support. The statement “foreign investment from countries that share our values, like the UK and the US, is appropriate but investment from other countries, such as China or Russia, is not” was supported by 41% of voters but 37% opposed it.
Voting intention appeared to have only limited impact on attitudes. While Liberal voters tended to be slightly more negative about foreign investment, and they were more hostile to Chinese government south-east Asian investment, they were more likely to adopt a kind of realist position — the statement “foreign investment reduces Australia’s control but as a medium-sized economy we need it for economic growth” was most strongly supported by Liberal voters.