ANUpoll finds support for government spending

6 February 2014

Despite the current climate of austerity and Federal Government budget cuts, Australians want to see increased government spending on social services, according to the new ANUpoll on public priorities for government spending.

"The release of the latest ANUPoll on public priorities for government expenditures is well timed given that the Commission of Audit will soon provide its draft report to Treasurer Joe Hockey," says the Crawford School of Public Policy's Professor Quentin Grafton.

"The Commission will, no doubt, recommend cuts in spending. Thus, knowing what people care about in terms of taxes and transfers will be important for the government as it makes its multi-billion dollar choices in the May budget."

Professor Grafton says the communication challenge for the government is to reduce spending expectations.

"This is because 81 per cent of respondents in the ANUpoll support the maintenance of government programs, and only 12 per cent want cuts," he says

"Interestingly, and despite the overwhelming support for maintaining spending, 61 per cent of respondents consider that the government is doing only a fair or a poor job of running programs."

The poll found 55 per cent of those surveyed preferred the Government to spend more on social services rather than cutting taxes. This is a similar figure to results of the 2009 ANUpoll, indicating the public attitude toward spending on social services is 'secular', unrelated to whichever party holds office.

"We can see from these results that Australians are keen to see more spending on social services, and we're happy to pay for these services through our taxes," said Professor Ian McAllister, who heads up the poll for the ANU School of Politics and International Relations and leads ANUpoll.

"The poll also clearly shows that the public is keen to see the Australian Government invest more heavily in health, education, the old age pension and police and law enforcement, and spend less on unemployment benefits.

"In contrast, opinions about how well the Federal Government runs its programs are lukewarm; 44 per cent of respondents see government performance as 'only fair'."

Dr Juliet Pietsch, from the School of Politics and International Relations, says the public is overwhelmingly supportive of government involvement in areas that involve most Australians such as health, education and old age pensions.

"Nearly all Australians get sick, have a relative in the education system and will inevitably grow old or are currently of retirement age," she says.

"There is less support for the most vulnerable including those on unemployment or welfare benefits."

Dr Pietsch says similarly, Australians are not overly supportive of increased spending for business and industry.

"Interestingly, the economy and jobs is listed as the most important problem facing Australia. It seems the public would like to see more expenditure on the creation of jobs rather than welfare assistance for those without a job."

Six in 10 respondents regard the tax system as fair, and 61 per cent consider the amount of tax they currently pay to be 'about right'.

If the government had to raise revenue, respondents were asked whether it should be increased by raising the GST or increasing income tax. Opinion was divided almost evenly, with 44 per cent favouring an increase in GST and 43 per cent preferring an increase in income tax.

Another issue which divided the public was government subsidies for the car industry, with 41 per cent of respondents in favour of support for the car industry, and 45 per cent opposing the subsidies.

When asked to nominate the most important problem for Australia at the moment, almost one third of respondents answered that economy and jobs as the most pressing issue.

Immigration, including asylum seekers, is still front of mind for many Australians, and was nominated as the most important issue by 15 per cent of those surveyed.

This is the 15th ANUpoll. ANUpoll is a regular survey of Australian public opinion on matters of national importance. It forms part of the mission of the University to conduct research of the highest quality and to engage with government and the community on public policy issues.

A copy of the poll can be found at: http://politicsir.cass.anu.edu.au/polls-and-surveys/anupoll/polls/public-priorities-government-expenditure

You can test your opinions at the ABC Interactive ANUpoll.