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Climate no longer top policy issue with Australians
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian voters no longer see the environment as the top policy issue, but the government remained committed Tuesday to an emissions trading scheme which, if defeated in November, could see a snap election.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was swept to power on his promise to tackle climate change in 2007, but a new opinion poll on Tuesday found that saving jobs was now the top priority for Australians and fighting climate change had fallen to seventh.
"Climate change continues to drop as a priority for Australians," said the fifth annual "Australia and the World" poll by the Sydney-based Lowy Institute for International Policy.
"In 2007, Australians ranked tackling climate change as the equal most important foreign policy goal. This year it ranked seventh out of 10 possible goals, down 10 points since last year and 19 points since 2007."
Climate Change Minister Penny Wong dismissed the poll and said the government would press ahead with its emissions trading scheme (ETS). "Our policy is not determined by polls," she told radio, adding the government would act in the national interest.
The legislation has already been rejected once by the Senate and if defeated again would give Rudd, who has a commanding lead in opinion polls, a trigger for a snap election.
Elections are not due until late 2010, but the government may prefer to go to the polls early to avoid voter backlash from rising interest rates and jobless queues in 2010.
The Lowy poll found saving jobs, strengthening the economy, preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, combating international terrorism, protecting Australians abroad and controlling illegal immigration, all ranked above tackling climate change.
"The only big downwards movement this year was with the goal of tackling climate change," said the Lowy poll.
Opponents of the government's carbon trading plan say the scheme is too costly and will cost thousands of jobs.
The planned ETS scheme would not come into force until July 2011, but the government wants it passed ahead of December's world climate talks in Copenhagen, which are meant to hammer out the framework of a tougher global climate deal.
"Australia is the hottest, driest continent on Earth. All Australians have an interest in ensuring that we deal with climate change so we have a prosperous economy right into the future," said Treasurer Wayne Swan in standing firm on the ETS.
Australia's scheme will be tougher than the European emissions trading program because it covers 75 percent of the nation's carbon emissions, versus 40 percent in Europe.
The outcome is being closely watched in the United States, where lawmakers are crafting emissions trading laws as well.
Australia, the world's biggest coal exporter, has committed to cut carbon emissions by 5 percent by 2020, or up to 25 percent if there is a strong international agreement on a broader climate pact in Copenhagen.
(Editing by Nick Macfie)
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