Guardian Essential poll: voters back minimum wage rise but divided on Labor’s climate target

A majority of voters support the recent pay boost for Australians on low incomes, but people are divided about whether the Albanese government should stick with its 43% emissions reduction target or go for something more ambitious, according to the latest Guardian Essential poll.

The survey of 1,087 voters shows two-thirds of respondents (67%) support the recent 5.2% increase to the minimum wage championed by Anthony Albanese ahead of the May election, with only 15% opposed (16% of respondents neither support nor oppose the increase, while 3% are unsure).

But the picture is mixed when it comes to what voters think the new government should do regarding Australia’s medium-term emissions reduction target.

Just under half the sample (49%) say the new government should do what it told voters it would do in May, which is deliver a 43% reduction by 2030. But 30% of respondents would support an increase in ambition, while 21% are unsure.

The Albanese government has signalled it could introduce legislation reflecting the promised 43% target during the opening week of the 47th parliament, scheduled for the last week in July. The Opposition leader, Peter Dutton, has signalled the Coalition will oppose it on the basis that it is too ambitious.

But Australian voters returned a progressive House and Senate at the May federal election. While Labor has the numbers in the lower house, it will face pressure to step up ambition beyond the 43% commitment from the Greens, and potentially from the climate-focused independents who took six lower house seats and a Senate spot from the Liberals.

The new climate and energy minister, Chris Bowen, has been thrust into an energy crisis during his opening weeks in the portfolio, with soaring prices, gas shortages, blackout threats in five states and the temporary suspension of the wholesale electricity market.

Bowen has blasted the Coalition for failing to act during its time in office, and just under half the voters surveyed (45%) also blame the climate wars for the imbroglio, citing years of neglect by successive governments ignoring problems until they got much worse.

A further 35% say some of the current problems have been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and by supply shortages that have come to the fore during the pandemic, while 20% point the finger explicitly at Australia’s powerful fossil fuel lobby and the Coalition’s resistance to the transition to low-emissions energy over the past decade.

Significant public support for an increase in the minimum wage follows the Fair Work Commission’s decision in June to boost pay packets by at least $40 a week.

The June increase amounts to a 5.2% raise in the national minimum wage and 4.6% for award minimums. But with inflation on the march, the Reserve Bank of Australia has argued wage increases in Australia now should be in the order of 3.5% as an “anchoring point”.

Last week the RBA governor, Philip Lowe, warned if employees managed to land wage increases in the order of 4 or 5% “it’s going to be harder to return inflation to 2.5%, and then we’d be in a world where the economy would have to slow more and perhaps the unemployment rate would need to rise”.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus responded to Lowe’s arguments by pointing out minimum pay rises granted by the FWC did not automatically flow to workers across the economy given we “don’t have centralised wage bargaining in this country”.

Labor also responded to Lowe’s intervention by pointing out the central bank governor was not advocating a cap on wages growth. The new industrial relations minister, Tony Burke, noted wages growth in Australia had been slow or stagnant for many years. Burke said now inflation had hit 7%, real pay packets were going backwards.

With Anthony Albanese arriving in Spain on Monday night for a fresh round of meetings with his overseas counterparts, Guardian Essential respondents were asked for their views about which alliances mattered more to Australia.

Respondents continue to think the US is Australia’s most significant foreign relationship (80% say it is important to have a close relationship with Washington), while 78% say the Pacific, 76% European nations, 58% say China and 33% Russia.

Voters were also asked a second question about our posture in the world. Asked whether Australia needed to prioritise defending our national interest or look for opportunities to increase global cooperation, 62% nominated a defence of the national interest and 33% said global cooperation.

In the opening days of his prime ministership, Albanese travelled to Tokyo to meet Fumio Kishida, Joe Biden and Narendra Modi and then travelled separately to Jakarta to meet Joko Widodo. The prime minister also hosted the New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, in Sydney.

Albanese’s current sortie is to Nato talks in Madrid, which will focus on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He will also execute a planned diplomatic rapprochement with French president Emmanuel Macron in Paris after the rancorous fallout from Aukus nuclear submarine fracas.

After the current trip, Albanese will travel to meet Pacific leaders in July. With China flexing its muscle in the region, Australia’s foreign minister. Penny Wong, has also undertaken several trips to the Pacific since being sworn in a month ago.

Poll respondents were asked a regular question about their satisfaction with the direction of the country, which is a proxy for the performance of the government.

Two weeks ago, 48% of respondents said the country was on the right track (up from 40% just before the election). This week, 47% of respondents hold that view.

Just before the May election, 42% of Guardian Essential respondents said Australia was on the wrong track. That fell to 27% immediately after the May contest and is up to 29% this week. These negative movements are inside the poll’s margin of error, which is plus or minus 3%.

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