June 27, 2011 / 4:49 AM / in 7 years

Australians cool on tackling climate change

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard Monday promised generous tax cuts and payments to compensate households for the impact of a new carbon tax as she steps up efforts to win public support for an increasingly unpopular policy.

Gillard has staked her troubled leadership on introducing a carbon price, but a new poll Monday found most voters no longer regard tackling climate change as a major goal.

The prime minister said 90 percent of Australian households would receive tax cuts to compensate for the impact of the carbon tax, while three million low income households would be better off, with compensation payments to be 20 percent higher than any carbon price impacts.

“That is seven million Australian households getting a tax cut or payment increase,” Gillard told Australian television.

“People believe climate change is real. They want us to do something effective. The most effective thing we can do is put a price on the big polluters, get them to pay and they will work out how to reduce their carbon pollution.”

The government, Greens and independent lawmakers are working on final details of the carbon tax, with the carbon price and levels of compensation for industry and householders due to be announced within weeks.

The Lowy Institute for International Policy poll found that for the first time in seven years there was no longer majority support for action on climate change.

“Support for taking tough action to address climate change continues to erode,” it said.

Only 46 percent of Australia’s believe fighting climate change is a very important foreign policy goal -- down 29 points from 2007 when the Labor government was first swept to power on an environmental platform.

Gillard is struggling to gain political support for her carbon price scheme, to come into force from mid-2012, and is banking on it and a new mining tax to turn around her poor standing with voters before elections due by 2013.

Her minority government, dependent on a handful of Green and independent MPs, would be thrown from office if an early election was called, according to opinion polls.

“Overall, the Australian public is not happy with the Gillard government’s efforts to address climate change,” said the Lowy poll.

The fall in support for tackling climate change in Australia coincides with the failure of global talks on climate change.

The third policy pillar of the Gillard government is the development of a regional asylum seeker center to process boatpeople arriving off Australia’s remote coasts.

Australians rated controlling illegal immigration sixth on the list of policy priorities, but it remains a “hot-button” election issue.

Labor governments in Australia have traditionally struggled to convince voters they are good economic managers, even during good times, and the Lowy poll shows Gillard will have to focus on the economy and jobs to win back support.

Australians said protecting jobs was their top policy priority, which is interesting as the country enjoys virtually full employment. Strengthening the economy, now in its 20th straight year without a recession, ranked a fifth priority.

The other top foreign policy priorities were the prevention of the spread of nuclear weapons, combating international terrorism and protecting Australians abroad.

“Most Australians, 60 percent, say the ability of terrorists to launch another major attack against Australians is now the same as at the time of the 2002 Bali bombings,” said the poll.

The bombing of two nightclubs in Bali in 2002 killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.

Additional reporting by James Grubel in Canberra; Editing by Nick Macfie and Ed Davies

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