Australians don’t share the growing view among commentators across the political spectrum that Newstart benefits are too low, according to today’s Essential Report. And power companies and the media are our least trusted industries.

A third of voters believe Newstart benefits are not high enough, Essential found, but 30% believed they were “about right” and 25% thought they were actually too high.

Unusually for a social policy question, there is less partisan differentiation between respondents than normal. Liberal voters are more likely to take a hard line — 32% think Newstart is too generous — but it is Labor voters who most strongly feel it should be increased — 43% of Labor voters think it isn’t high enough, compared to 41% of Greens voters. And 21% of Greens voters think Newstart is too high, compared to 18% of Labor voters — a result altogether at odds with the Greens stereotype of inner-city lefties.

More broadly, voters much more strongly supported the view that Australia’s welfare system had encouraged a “culture of dependency” and should be “radically changed”, compared to the view that welfare recipients are victims of circumstances beyond their control, that benefits aren’t generous and it is the responsibility of a civilized society to keep them from poverty. The latter view drew support from only 30% of voters, compared to 53% who supported the more hardline approach.

However, that was partly because Liberal voters were such strong adherents of the “culture of dependency” view — 67% of Liberal voters supported that view, and only 20% agreed that welfare wasn’t generous and a requirement of civilized society. Both Labor and Greens voters were more likely to support the latter view. And the results perfectly match income levels, with high-income earners much more likely to take a harder line (which may explain why Greens voters are slightly “harder-hearted” than Labor voters).

The result, however, might suggest why the Government has been so resistant to lifting Newstart (apart from the fiscal impact) and apparently relaxed about being perceived as so hardline on welfare.

Power companies and the media were the two least-trusted industries, Essential found (tomorrow, we’ll have our biannual “trust in media” results). Just 18% of voters had some or a lot of trust in power companies; only 30% had trust in the media, which was below mining (32%) and banking (33%). Agriculture, perhaps because of perceptions of a life of honest toil outdoors, is the most trusted industry, with 72% of voters having some or a lot of trust; tourism was next, on 68%, then manufacturing (56%). Forty one per cent of voters had “no trust at all” in power companies; 29% had “no trust at all” in banking.

We’re also a nation of happy workers, seemingly. Just over 70% of voters said they were satisfied with their current job, with not too much variation across income levels or age, although 77% of women were satisfied compared to 67% of men. Most people were content to either remain in their current job (40%) or take a job elsewhere in the same profession (18%), with men more likely to want a change of occupation, and 18-34 year olds as well.

On voting intention, little change from last week: Labor is on 36% and the Coalition on 48%; the Greens have picked up a point to 9%, for a 2PP outcome of 54-46% in the Coalition’s favour.

Peter Fray

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