Labor’s decision to commit to a dramatically higher renewable energy goal has drawn strong support of voters — despite the view that it will lead to higher electricity prices, today’s Essential Report shows.
Nearly two-thirds of voters back Labor’s goal of sourcing 50% of Australia’s electricity supply from renewables by 2030, while just 16% oppose it. While support is, as expected, very strong among Labor and Greens voters, it is also surprisingly strong among Liberal voters, who approve of the proposal 45% to 35%. And of the 65% of voters who support the proposal, 25% “strongly approve” of it, including 8% of Liberal voters and 20% of “other” voters.
As data from Essential has shown in the past, voters strongly support renewable energy and believe governments should provide more support for it. The Abbott government has gone out of its way to attack renewable energy and laud coal as the future of energy production and has reduced the Renewable Energy Target. At its recent national conference, Labor adopted a goal of 50% renewable energy by 2030.
Significantly, there is strong support for Labor’s proposal despite voters believing the goal may lead to higher electricity prices. Just over half of voters say it will lead to higher prices, including 24% who say it will lead to much higher costs, while just 18% say it will lead to lower costs. However, it does little to deter support: while 84% of those opposed to the proposal believe it will lead to higher costs, 48% of those who support it believe it will lead to higher costs as well; 24% believe it will lower costs and 14% believe it will make no difference.
Whether a much greater reliance on renewables will lead to significantly higher costs is unclear, given the dramatic downward price curves of solar PV and wind turbine systems that already make them competitive with fossil fuels even without a carbon price. Modelling conducted for the government’s own review of the RET found that the then-current target would have led to lower electricity costs for consumers in coming years.
However, the numbers are bad news for the government and News Corp media outlets, which have already tried to attack Labor’s proposal as threatening household energy bills. The problem the Coalition and its supporters face is that voters don’t disagree that it might lead to higher prices, they simply support renewables regardless — even people who believe it will lead to “much higher costs”. If Labor can lift the number of people who believe the renewables goal will make no difference to prices, or perhaps even lower them, it will completely neuter an already weak scare campaign by their opponents.
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Essential also asked voters to rank the importance of the asylum seeker issue in how they vote. Only 7% of voters rank it as the most important issue in determining how they vote — and that figure is relatively consistent across voting intention; 29% say it is “one of the most important issues”. For Labor voters, 23% rate it “one of the most important”, much lower than Liberal voters (35%) and Greens voters (38%). Another 37% of voters rate it as “quite important but not as important as other issues”, while 19% rate it as “not very important” or “not at all important”. The numbers are virtually unchanged since 2013. Asked who has the best policy for handling asylum seekers, 37% say the Coalition, 12% say Labor and 8% say the Greens — although the results tend to flow with voting intention.
And 26% of voters say terrorism is the biggest threat to Australia, just ahead of global economic instability — although the latter is also frequently nominated as the next biggest threat. Overall, 55% of voters nominate economic instability as the biggest or second biggest threat to Australia, ahead of terrorism (47%), climate change (38%) and a slowdown in China (36%). Greens voters are far less worried about terrorism and more worried about climate change, while Coalition voters are the reverse.