Australia is a Progressive Country

Anthony Albanese has become just the fourth Labor leader to win government from opposition since WWII. Labor has governed for just 22 of the 77 years since 1945.

Yet despite this history, polling shows that Australia is actually a progressive country. A majority of Australians hold progressive views on a range of economic, social and environmental questions.

In 2020, The Australia Institute ran a poll on Australians’ priorities on policy questions. It asked for a preference in the budget between lifting the unemployment benefit, spending more on education and health, cutting income tax, paying down the national debt, or none of the above. Raising the unemployment payment was the most popular option, followed closely by more investment in health and education, with tax cuts and then debt repayment well behind.

Another poll found 77% support for the unemployment payment being above the poverty line. Currently, it sits at about two-thirds of that.

On global warming, a 2021 poll found 82% of Australians support the phase-out of coal-fired power plants. This was of course after the bushfires, but the number may be even higher since the flooding early this year. In the wake of lock-downs, 63% supported renewable energy investment as a pathway to economic recovery, compared to just 12% support for a “gas-fired recovery.”

Independent volunteers on the NSW mid-north coast (via caz4cowper.com.au).

On indigenous recognition, a 2018 poll found broad public support for the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart. On the First Nations Voice in parliament, support was 46% and opposition 29%, while the remainder had not heard of the statement and/or not formed a view. 

There was more support than opposition for the First Nations Voice to Parliament among Coalition and independent voters, and support was expectedly strong among Labor and Greens voters. There is similar support for the Uluru Statement’s proposed Makarrata Commission, intended, according to the statement, “to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.”

Meanwhile, as the failure of the Katherine Deves’ ploy suggests, there seems to be little risk of a US-style cultural politics of gender and sexuality becoming entrenched in Australia. Almost 90% of Australians support the right to abortion.

Equal rights for transgender people is supported by 78% of Australians. Two-thirds support access to medically supervised gender affirmation treatment, and the same number oppose schools being able to expel students based on gender or sexual identity. And of course, 61% of Australians voted for marriage equality.

As the scandal of the Sri Lankan boats and the election day text messages showed, the LNP still view refugees as a vote-winner. Yet 53% of Australians support on-shore processing of refugees, as well as work and welfare rights for applicants while their claims are being processed.

Lastly, in the Lowy Institute poll of 2021, NZ Labor leader, Jacinda Ardern, was our favourite international leader, with 91% of Australians expressing confidence in her “to do the right thing.” In the poll, Scott Morrison scored lower than Ardern as well as Joe Biden and former German leader Angela Merkel.

Many, many factors contributed to the LNP’s defeat on the weekend: generational change, increasing leadership from women, climate disasters, vaccine mismanagement, quarantine mismanagement, support for lock-downs, and Scott Morrison’s personal failings (Brittany Higgins, “it’s not a race”, and “I don’t hold a hose, mate”).

But the polls show the result was more than circumstantial.

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