PUBLIC support for the carbon price has plunged to a record low of 33 per cent, as Prime Minister Julia Gillard faces the fight of her political life to try to reconcile the public to her deeply unpopular tax.
An Age/Nielsen poll taken in the days leading up to the launch of the tax yesterday found one in two Australians believe it will leave them worse off.
The poll also shows the Coalition has consolidated its massive two-party lead over Labor, and would win an election held now with an 8 per cent swing.
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As the carbon tax came into force yesterday, politicians hit the campaign trail, with Ms Gillard declaring that ”our nation is seizing a new future” and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott renewing his pledge to repeal the tax if he wins the next election, due late next year.
”On day one of a new Parliament, the carbon tax repeal legislation will be introduced. That is my pledge to the people of Australia,” he said.
”If you elect a Coalition government, there will be no carbon tax – and I can be believed when I say there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead”.
The Nielsen poll shows Mr Abbott’s message resonating with more voters. Opposition to pricing carbon has risen three points to 62 per cent, while support is down four points in a month, according to the poll of 1400 people taken from Thursday to Saturday.
Despite the government cash splash already delivered to families and pensioners, and income tax cuts for more than seven million Australians that started yesterday, 51 per cent of people say they will be worse off under the carbon tax (up one point in a month).
Only 5 per cent think they will be better off with the carbon price, and 37 per cent said it would make no difference to them (down 4 points).
In practice, on the government’s figures, three million households will be left worse off, receiving partial or no compensation, although most people will get something.
One third of Labor voters oppose the carbon price and almost a third say it will leave them worse off. Only 11 per cent of Coalition supporters are in favour of the tax and two thirds say they will be worse off. Two thirds of Greens voters back the carbon price but three in ten Greens supporters says they will be worse off.
Amid controversies over the carbon tax and asylum seekers, the Coalition has slightly widened its two-party lead to 58 per cent to 42 per cent.
Labor’s primary vote is up two points, but it remains at a woeful 28 per cent. The Coalition’s primary vote is steady on 48 per cent while the Greens have dropped 2 points to 12 per cent.
Ms Gillard’s approval is down one point to 35 per cent; Mr Abbott’s approval is steady at 39 per cent
Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott were both in Melbourne yesterday as they campaigned for and against the new tax. ”As Australians go about their ordinary Sunday, our nation is seizing a new future,” Ms Gillard said.
”From today, we will be seizing a clean energy future. And from today millions of Australians will see tax cuts.”
She said Mr Abbott would have to look people in the eye at the election ”and explain to them how he’s taking their tax cuts away, their family payment increases, their pension increases”.
But she also claimed that if Mr Abbott became PM, he would not remove the tax. ”He won’t take carbon pricing away. He’ll engage in a little fiddle, a little fudge to kind of pretend but carbon pricing will still be here.”
As Labor homed in on Mr Abbott’s claims, Treasurer Wayne Swan shopped for groceries on Saturday and Sunday and found no difference in the prices.
Special Minister of State Gary Gray interviewed his mother, who lives in Whyalla – the South Australian steel town which Mr Abbott had said would be wiped out by the carbon tax.
Ms Gillard said that ”Australians can look round and see the sky hasn’t fallen in”.
Greens leader Christine Milne is convinced the public will finally accept the tax. ”I think people will shrug their shoulders and say ‘what was all that about’,” she said. ”People will start to get angry with the Coalition for having made all the claims they’ve made.”
The government’s new mining tax also started yesterday. Ms Gillard said that with it ”we seize a future of better sharing of the benefits of the mining boom.
Minerals Council of Australia chief Mitch Hooke said that a time of global economic uncertainty, both new taxes eroded the minerals industry’s international competitiveness.