Climate plan leaves voters cold

That's got to hurt ... 75% believe the government has done a poor job addressing climate change.
That's got to hurt ... 75% believe the government has done a poor job addressing climate change.

SUPPORT for climate action continues to erode and more Australians say they don't want to pay anything to help reduce greenhouse emissions as the Gillard government prepares to unveil a carbon tax that will impose costs on industry and families earning more than $150,000.

The Prime Minister pledged yesterday that nine out of 10 households would get assistance to cope with the costs of a carbon tax through tax cuts and increases in family payments and pensions – with the bulk of compensation for households earning less than $150,000 a year.

But an annual poll by the Lowy Institute underlines how hard it will be to sell the new tax, with 39 per cent of Australians saying they are not prepared to pay anything to combat global warming, almost double the proportion who were prepared to pay nothing when the Rudd government was working on its first emissions trading scheme in 2008.

The proportion of Australians willing to pay up to an extra $10 a month on power bills also slid from 32 per cent to just 19 per cent and those willing to pay between $10 and $20 a month fell from 20 per cent to 13 per cent. The proportion willing to pay more than $20 rose slightly to 22 per cent.

Declining support for climate action was also evident in the numbers who agreed that Australia should take action even if it involved “significant costs”, which fell to 41 per cent from 60 per cent in 2008. Another 40 per cent said climate change needed to be addressed but favoured gradual, low-cost action.

The seventh national Lowy Poll surveyed 1002 adult Australians by phone from March 30 to April 14.

The household compensation package, together with offsets to prevent price rises at the petrol bowser, will eat up at least half of the $11 billion a year that would be raised by a $20 carbon tax, and Julia Gillard said that would mean “the vast majority we assist actually won't pay any price because of the assistance that they receive”.

The chief executive of The Climate Institute, John Connor, said a recent Nielsen poll and an analysis of talkback radio comments by Media Monitors suggested a gradual turnaround in declining support for carbon pricing in recent weeks, after the Lowy Institute had gathered its data.

The Media Monitors analysis of hundreds of talkback radio calls across the country showed that in February and March calls had been “strongly unfavourable” while by May and June they were “moderately unfavourable”, with a significant increase in favourable calls as discussion focused on the compensation package and the need for action.

Yesterday Ms Gillard challenged Tony Abbott to accept Treasury assistance to cost his promise to provide personal income tax cuts while still repealing the carbon tax and bringing the budget back to surplus at least as quickly as the government.

The Coalition leader dismissed the offer as “an outrageous bit of political one-upmanship” that involved improperly using the Treasury “as a political weapon”.

Assistance to coalminers and coal-fired generators remain among the final sticking points as the carbon tax deal nears completion and the multi-party committee prepares to meet tomorrow.

While claiming he was “full of optimism” a carbon tax deal would be clinched, the Greens leader, Bob Brown, said yesterday a carbon price would have a minimal impact on a coal industry making record profits, but the industry would eventually have to be replaced by renewables.

Mr Abbott leapt on the statement as proof of “what the Coalition has been saying now for a long time, that Julia Gillard's carbon tax will destroy the coal industry”.