Voters support a free trade agreement with China but are uncertain about who will benefit, today’s Essential Report suggests.

In a poll conducted over the last week, voters back the agreement (44%-18%), formally announced yesterday after months of speculation. While Coalition voters were strongest in support, the only voting group hostile to the agreement was Others/PUP voters, who opposed it (35%-34%). However, voters believed China would emerge from the agreement with more than us: 35% believe the treaty will favour China more, compared to 12% who think Australia will do better from it; 24% think both countries will do equally well. While Coalition voters are more likely to think Australia will do better than other voters, even they think China will do better (22%-17%).

Asked which specific sectors will benefit most, 52% say the government will get a lot or some benefit, 48% believe mining companies will benefit, and 44% say Australian business overall. Working people are seen as getting “no benefit” by 22% of voters; 18% say manufacturing firms will get no benefit. Thirty-seven per cent believe the economy will benefit overall compared to 32% who believe the economy will get little or not benefit. For all of the options, however, just under a third of voters say they simply don’t know, as if they’ve heard FTAs are good, but don’t really know why.

Voters however do have strong views on measures linked to a free trade agreement. Fewer restrictions on Chinese workers are strongly opposed, (57%-20%); greater access to Chinese markets of course is strongly approved of; fewer restrictions on Chinese investment are opposed (52%-23%), but in a surprising result, voters appear sanguine about Chinese manufactures, with lower tariffs on Chinese goods supported (43%-28%). It seems we don’t like Chinese workers or investment, but their cheap goods are welcome.

But Australians were less impressed with the G20 meeting, with 62% preferring to view it as “an expensive talk fest, it’s unlikely to change anything” compared to 16% who think it will deliver real outcomes for Australia and the global economy.

Essential also asked questions about refugees, which elicited some different perspectives on the issue from voters. Fourteen per cent of voters believe Australia takes around 50,000 refugees a year, many times more than the intake of 13,750 to which the current government has returned it; 19% believe we take around 25,000, while 15% where about right on 15,000. But the numbers disguise significantly different views. Coalition and other/PUP voters are more likely to think we take more refugees — 36% of Coalition voters and 43% of other/PUP voters believe we take 25,000 or 50,000 refugees, whereas 33% of Greens voters think we take only 5000 or 10,000. Similarly, Coalition and other/PUP voters are more likely to think we take more refugees than other countries, while Greens voters are more likely to think we take fewer.

However, the majority of voters are clueless as to the comparative weight of refugees and skilled migrants. Thirty one per cent of voters believe we take more refugees than skilled migrants and another 12% believe we take the same number of each, when last year we took around 129,000 skilled migrants, or nearly 68% of the entire immigration program; 25% of voters correctly said we took more skilled migrants than refugees. Again, Coalition voters were more inclined to think we took more refugees, while Greens voters thought we took fewer.

And 44% of voters disagreed with the statement “refugees contribute to the nation that accepts them, it is in our interest to increase our refugee intake”, while 39% agreed; 43% agreed “Australia’s overall population is too high, we need to wind back our refugee program” compared to 40% who disagreed; but 49% agreed “accepting refugees is something a wealthy nation like Australia should do to support poorer nations” compared to 36% who disagreed.

On voting intention, no change from last week: the Coalition remains on 40%; Labor remains on 38% and the Greens on 10%. The PUP has dropped a point to 3%; the two-party preferred outcome remains 52%-48% in Labor’s favour.

Peter Fray

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