The policy debate around energy and climate is saturated with myths about what is or isn’t politically feasible.
Blueprint Institute’s latest polling project, Voices from the Regions, puts these myths under the microscope. The poll, conducted by YouGov, gauges the opinions of nine regional communities with strong connections to coal. Eight currently house our coal-fired generators and mines, and one recently lost their last coal asset. It asks for their opinions on the shifts in the energy landscape, government climate and energy policy, and the recommendations of our latest report, From the ground up: A Blueprint for economic diversification in regional Australia.
The results are striking. The majority of Australians in regions connected to coal favour increased climate action and more investment in renewables and green hydrogen. They overwhelmingly support seizing the exciting new job opportunities that a changing energy mix offers.
- On average, 69% of respondents support Australia adopting a net-zero by 2050 target (with a high of 78% in Grey and a low of 61% in Capricornia and Flynn).
- Support for Australia halving its emissions by 2030 in line with the UK and US is 74% (with a high of 81% in Grey and a low of 67% in Capricornia).
- Support for a levy on heavy carbon polluters and the money being given to every Australian as an annual payment averaged 58% (with a high of 61% in Grey and a low of 54% in Flynn).
- On average, the 53% of respondents who do not believe that human activity is the main contributor to climate change still recognise that renewable energy creates jobs (with a high of 61% in Gippsland and a low of 43% in Capricornia).
- 80% of respondents support investing in clean industries like green hydrogen (with a high of 84% in O’Connor and Gippsland and a low of 72% in Capricornia).
- On average, 72% of respondents support redirecting coal and gas subsidies to fund large renewable energy projects (with a high of 83% in Grey and a low of 63% in Capricornia and Maranoa).
- 71% of respondents recognise the possibility that with proper government support and investment, non-coal industries could thrive in their area (with a high of 81% in Grey and a low of 56% in Capricornia).
- 81% of respondents support government-funded training for redundant coal workers (with a high of 87% in Shortland and a low of 74% in Maranoa).
All electorates housing coal-fired generators are included; Hunter, Shortland and Calare (NSW), Maranoa and Flynn (QLD), Gippsland (VIC), and O’Connor (WA). Additionally, polling was conducted in Capricornia (QLD). Although this electorate does not have a coal-fired generator, approximately 11% of residents are employed across the 31 coal mines within the region.
These regions are more likely to be impacted by the inevitable change in Australia’s energy system than broader Australia. As such, the attitudes and experiences of the communities within them are integral to designing effective policy.
The final seat selected for this polling analysis was Grey in South Australia. Although there are no current coal assets within the electorate, it was previously host to the Port Augusta power station which closed in 2016. Grey provides the perspective of a region where coal was a significant employer and contributor to the local economy, and allows us to understand the impacts following the closure of a coal-asset.
The debate surrounding economically rational long-term energy and climate policy has been stagnant for a decade and a half—but the economic and environmental necessity for action has only increased. Breaking through the political gridlock is essential for Australia’s long-term prosperity in a changing energy landscape.
The findings which follow summarise the wealth of new evidence established by this polling project, and in doing so, support a revamped discussion of the public appetite for climate and energy policy reform in Australia.
The majority of respondents in every electorate polled expressed support for more ambitious emissions targets, with an average of 74% in favour of halving of emissions by 2030, and an average of 69% supporting a net-zero 2050 target.
These results undermine the narrative that regional Australians, and even those who work in heavily polluting industries, oppose ambitious emissions reduction targets.
Respondents were asked if they support Australia at least matching commitments made by the UK and US by halving carbon emissions by 2030.
- On average 74% of respondents surveyed support this policy (with a high of 81% in Grey and a low of 67% in Capricornia).
- On average 64% of coal worker households support this policy.
- On average 71% of Coalition voters and 87% of Labour voters support the policy, showing that support for targets is truly bipartisan.
Respondents were also asked whether Australia should commit to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. That is, the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere.
- On average 69% of respondents support a net-zero by 2050 target (with a high of 78% in Grey to a low of 61% in Capricornia and Flynn).
- On average 63% of coal worker households support a net-zero by 2050 target.
- On average 62% of Coalition voters and 84% of Labour voters across all electorates support a net-zero by 2050 target.
- Support for a net-zero by 2050 target was relatively consistent across age and education demographics.
Such results clearly show overwhelming and bipartisan support for net-zero by 2050 climate commitments in the regions polled.
The majority of respondents in each region support a levy being charged on heavy carbon polluters and the money being given to every Australian as an annual payment.
Since 2014, carbon pricing has been seen as politically unfeasible. But our polling reveals that even in the communities most associated with fossil fuels, attitudes have changed.
We asked Australians in each seat polled whether they would support a carbon pricing scheme similar to that currently in operation in Canada, where a levy is placed upon heavy polluters and citizens are given the funds as a rebate.
- On average, 58% of respondents in each region polled support such a carbon pricing scheme (with a high of 61% in Grey and a low of 54% in Flynn).
- For those in households containing a coal worker, on average 56% support such a scheme.
These responses offer hope for the political feasibility of economically efficient energy and climate policy.
A clear majority of respondents in every electorate polled believe human activity is the main contributor to climate change and that the energy transition and renewable technologies could create jobs in their communities.
- On average, 69% of respondents agree that human activity is the main contributor to climate change (with a high of 77% in Shortland and a low of 60% in Capricornia).
- On average, 73% of all respondents and 64% of coal worker households agree that building new renewable energy facilities would create more local jobs in their community.
- On average, 53% of those who disagree that human activity is the main contributor to climate change still agree that building more renewable energy facilities would create local jobs.
These results are largely consistent with previous national polling. It shows that human-driven climate change is actually well-recognised in communities connected to coal. Australians in the communities polled are positive about future renewable opportunities for their communities.
A majority of respondents believe that subsidies for fossil fuel industries should be reduced. More respondents support investments in renewable energy and clean hydrogen projects than the construction of new gas-fired or nuclear power stations.
Our results show strong support for a reduction in subsidies for fossil fuel industries and new renewable projects in the very regions most associated with fossil fuels. Households with coal workers also clearly recognise shifts in the energy economy and want policies that support a renewable energy future.
- On average 72% of respondents (with a high of 83% in Grey and a low of 63% in Capricornia and Maranoa) support the reduction of subsidies for coal and gas companies, and the use of the savings to invest in large-scale renewable energy.
- An average of 63% of coal households polled prefer investment in alternative industries to subsidies propping up their own.
- On average 68% of respondents who don’t believe that human activity is the main contributor to climate change still support investments in clean industries such as green hydrogen.
It is hard to think of a more significant demonstration of the appetite for substantial public support of renewable energy investment. The message is clear—even those living in the regions and working in the industries currently most associated with fossil fuels prioritise investment in new renewable energy.
Over three-quarters of respondents recognise the feasibility of non-coal industries thriving in their area.
Across all electorates, 71% of respondents are aligned with the view that with proper government support and investment, there are industries and jobs that can thrive in their area. Even in these regions, coal is not thought to be the only viable industry that can provide the majority of high-paying jobs. These results demonstrate a preparedness from most regional Australians for structural change so long as it is in their long-term interests.
Respondents overwhelmingly support the provision of government-funded training for coal workers who will become redundant during the energy shift, but support for other policies is mixed. The clear preference for training provision highlights that the respondents polled want to be empowered, rather than rely on handouts.
- On average, 81% of respondents support the provision of government-funded training for coal workers made redundant (with a high of 87% in Shortland and a low of 74% in Maranoa).
- Support for taxpayer-funded, one-off payments in the case of redundancies is mixed at exactly 50% on average (with a high of 61% in Gippsland and a low of 43% in Capricornia).
- Respondents are also split on whether it was the government’s responsibility, or that of the generator or mining company, to financially support workers after a closure, with 49% on average favouring the former (with a high of 54% in Shortland and a low of 44% in O’Connor).
These results indicate an understanding in the surveyed regions of the potential for re-employment in other industries and the skill development that demands. Responses reflect a preference for the government to provide services to drive long-term gainful employment, rather than a short-term income boost.
The regions polled speak with a clear voice—a voice which rejects the tired tropes which so often characterise communities connected with coal. Our findings challenge the assumptions that justify the reluctance of regional representatives to support bolder climate and energy policy.
Do most people in these regions support new renewable investment even at the expense of fossil fuel subsidies? Yes. Do they reject carbon pricing as a means of achieving efficient emissions reduction? No. Are most in these regions reluctant to support immediate and significant emissions reduction targets? Not at all—they demand them. And do they believe a promising future can exist for their community with industries other than coal? Absolutely.
Clear signposts exist for policymaking to be both economically rational, environmentally responsible, job-creating, and immensely popular in coal-power and mining communities. We hope this is a useful chapter in a much larger conversation about how Australia’s national climate strategy can spur jobs and inspire support in our regions.
Between 28 September and 18 October 2021, YouGov conducted polls in nine pre-selected electorates on behalf of Blueprint Institute. For the purposes of understanding the attitudes of those in regions that house coal assets, electorates with coal-fired generators were selected, along with an outlier with high coal mining employment. A representative sample of 3,763 adults—at least 400 from each electorate—were surveyed online and with live telephone calls. Data was weighted to the latest ABS estimates on gender, age, and education, and the theoretical margin of error is ±4.9 percentage points. Due to rounding, totals for some results may not add to 100.
This analysis may be cited as: Barrett, T., Downey, L., Green, K., Grice, J., Guinness, H., Hawcroft, A., Steinert, J., Twibill, N. (2021) Poll: Voices from the regions. Blueprint Institute.