A solid majority of voters in five marginal federal seats agree there should be an increase in income support payments, according to new electorate-level polling commissioned by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS).
Ahead of a federal election expected to be held in May of 2022, experts say the revelations illustrate a broader desire by the public for policies that supported economic opportunity leading out of lockdowns.
ACOSS commissioned Ipsos to survey 2,588 people across five marginal electorates: Boothby (SA Liberal), Swan (WA Liberal), Blair (QLD ALP), Longman (Qld LNP), Dobell (NSW ALP) as the government enters the start of a six-month campaign.
Across all seats, a solid majority of 69% said income support payments should be above the poverty line, with just over half saying they would change their vote to support a party that committed to lifting JobSeeker to above $67 a day.
Only 10% said this would turn them off a party, and 33% said it would make no difference to how they voted.
ACOSS chief executive Cassandra Goldie said the research showed people wanted political leaders to recognise the broad support that existed for an enhanced safety net.
“We are witnessing an extremely patchy recovery from the pandemic,” Goldie said, in reference to disparities in the rate of recovery from the pandemic across industries and states.
“A permanent increase to JobSeeker is the best way to create economic and social opportunity for the communities that have shouldered the greater burden,” she said.
Goldie said the research also reflected the levels of support across the political spectrum for political leaders and candidates to “adopt policies that reflect the empathy and co-operative spirit of people in Australia.”
“They also know what works for local business,” she said.
Analysis shows recovery post-pandemic has been uneven, across states and territories and industry.
Regional Western Australia and the Northern Territory showed relatively strong economic growth per capita across 2019 and 2020. Similarly the ACT’s output grew as a consequence of the activity of the public service, including in implementing JobSeeker, JobKeeper and other programs.
However Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth all showed declines in gross regional product (GRP) over 2019-20, as did regional NSW, VIC and SA.
Similarly a broad swathe of industries including tourism and the transportation sector, along with administrative services, accommodation, food services, and the arts, have still not yet returned to pre-COVID levels of growth.
During the pandemic, the social safety net was expanded, with a $90 billion JobKeeper scheme that ended in April providing $1,500 a fortnight to eligible recipients.
This dropped down to a new standard rate of $44 a day, and was replaced by the COVID-19 Disaster Payment during the second period of extended lockdowns in NSW and Victoria.
‘Working families are going backwards’
While the ACOSS findings focus on a single issue among niche voters, the most recent temperature check of the electorate suggests Labor’s new talking points signal a sense focusing on the safety net and economic support could form a winning message.
On Sunday Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers told the ABC federal Labor would welcome an election fought on the cost of living, pointing to price increases that were “gobbling up any real wages growth” for the “average family.”
“Under the Morrison government, petrol prices are skyrocketing, real wages are going down and working families are going backwards, and I think that should be central to an election about the economy, about living standards and about the Prime Minister’s failures on economic management,” Chalmers said.
Furthermore, an Essential poll released by Guardian Australia on Tuesday suggests more voters think Labor is better at managing the economy for everyday Australians.
The polling found the majority of Australians want an enhanced rather than diminished role for government as Australia works through how to rebuild the economy, with nearly two third of voters wanting more, not less, support from their government.
Linda Burney, Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services, told Business Insider Australia the Federal Government’s policies had made it harder for “the working families of middle Australia to keep up.”
“Scott Morrison has made middle Australia more vulnerable, not less,” Burney said.
She said Labor embraced a fight on the cost of living, including on government’s role in ensuring economic opportunities.
“It’s been eight long years of wage stagnation, job insecurity, poor investment, weak growth, skyrocketing debt and rorted budgets,” Burney said.
“Now the big risk at this election is three more years of attacks on wages… job security, and Medicare.”