Australians reflect on the last 12 months

Pat Griffiths
(Australian Associated Press)

Australians are disenchanted about where the world is headed after a turbulent year in international politics, the latest Lowy Institute poll has found.

Terrorism and North Korea’s nuclear arsenal rate as top concerns, but Australians are still pragmatic in the face of rapidly changing global challenges, according to the annual poll released on Wednesday.

“On more than one occasion I wondered whether we were living in Bizarro World,” said Michael Fullilove executive Director of the Lowy Insitute said in reference to the upended comic book fiction.

In 2016, Britain voted to leave the EU, populism and protectionism gained traction and the US elected Donald Trump, an unbeliever in the global order in which Australia is a player.

The poll found 80 per cent were dissatisfied with the world’s direction.

“However, it is striking that they are still largely outward-looking and positive about Australia’s global engagement,” Dr Fullilove said.

To that end, 78 per cent of Australians believe globalisation is ‘mostly good’ for Australia.

Democracy too has its stalwarts with 60 per cent of Australians including 52 per cent of people 18-29 agreeing that democracy is the preferred type of government.

Trust in Australia’s chief ally, the US, to act responsibly has halved since 2011, to 20 per cent.

Sixty per cent of Australians say Donald Trump has damaged their opinion of the US, but only thirty per cent think Australia should distance itself from that relationship.

As a result, the US has dropped from Australia’s ‘best friend’ in the world to second place, with New Zealand assuming the top spot.

In contrast, only eight per cent of respondents regarded China as Australia’s bestie.

Nearly half of Australians also think China will pose a military threat within the next two decades.

At the same time, more Australians regard China as an economic partner than a threat.

“When they think about Australia’s relationships in Asia, they see China as Australia’s best friend,” Dr Fullilove said in the report.

Feelings about safety are also at their lowest point in the 13-year history of the Lowy poll, with only 20 per cent of Australians saying they felt “very safe”.

Climate change ranked as the third greatest perceived threat, behind terrorism and North Korea.

Eighty per cent of us wanted the government to focus on renewables – a majority also believed global warming to be a pressing problem

Less than 20 per cent wanted a focus on traditional fuel sources such as coal.

Australians show less concern about aid budget reductions. Nearly three-quarters of Australians say the current aid budget of $3.8b is either too much or the right amount.

The Lowy Institute’s poll surveyed 1200 Australians for the annual poll in March.

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