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Jan 21, 2014

Essential: public backs Abbott's asylum seeker 'war'

An Essential poll has found the Coalition's tough line on asylum seekers is popular with the public, who don't think most are genuine refugees. And people remain fairly evenly split on whether anthropogenic climate change is real.

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There may be passionate inner-city protests against Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s hardline treatment of asylum seekers, but the silent majority of Australians agrees with him.

An Essential poll over the weekend found just 22% of voters thought the Coalition was “too tough” on asylum seekers — more people thought the government was “too soft” (25%). The most common response was that the Coalition was “taking the right approach” (35% of respondents). It’s a vindication — from the public at least — of Abbott’s approach.

While the government has been reluctant to reveal what it’s doing with asylum seekers, citing “operational reasons” for the gag, we know Australian authorities are trying to turn boats around and send them back to Indonesia (putting pressure on that bilateral relationship), and are sending other boats to facilities on remote Pacific islands. Some people are being sent back to the country where they started their journey. Applications for asylum are being processed very slowly. Abbott has likened his campaign to “a war“.

The online Essential poll of just over 1000 people was taken after Immigration Minister Scott Morrison apologised on Friday for Australian vessels breaching Indonesian sovereignty in the hunt for asylum seekers.

Do you think the Federal Liberal / National Government is too tough or too soft on asylum seekers or is it taking the right approach?

The poll found that it’s not so much that Australians don’t want genuine refugees to settle here; rather, they think most asylum seekers are not genuine refugees (47% of respondents said that, while 30% said most were genuine refugees).

When asked what should happen to asylum seekers who were found to be genuine refugees, the response softened somewhat; almost half (46%) said they should be allowed to stay, while 26% said they should be sent back to where they came from.

These responses indicate the public is either not aware of the high proportion of asylum seekers who come to Australia by boat who are found to be refugees — more than 90%, according to some media reports — or many Australians reject the UN’s definition and the way it is applied. There has been some debate around the UN’s definition.

Essential has found the Coalition rates much better with the public on asylum seeker policy than Labor (around 60% of respondents said the former Labor government was “too soft” on the issue when asked the question in 2010-2012).

The country is about evenly split on whether on human-induced climate change is real, Essential has found. While 51% said climate change was caused by human activity, 39% said it was a normal fluctuation (the rest said “don’t know”). These numbers have been steady for two years.

Among Coalition voters, 29% thought human-induced climate change was real while 61% didn’t — indicating why Abbott may not be too ambitious on the issue. But there’s hope for activists who want more action to reduce emissions; voters do associate recent heatwaves with climate change (52% made the link while 34% didn’t). However, that question just asked about “climate change”, not climate change caused by humans, so it’s not clear what people meant by their responses.

Federal voting intention is largely unchanged. The Coalition leads Labor on the two-party-preferred at 51%-49% (steady for some time), while the Liberals have a primary vote of 43% to Labor’s 37%. The Greens have lifted a couple of points to 9% on the primary, while the Palmer United Party is steady on 4% (significantly less than at the September election).

Some other polls put Labor ahead of the Coalition on the two-party preferred.

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