Australian public opinion has long been protectionist, with majorities agreeing with statements such as ‘Australia should continue to use tariffs to protect its industry’. But some Essential Research polling published today partially qualifies this finding.
Q. Thinking about Australian industries and the ways in which the Government can give them assistance and support – which forms of assistance and support do you think the Government should give to the following industries? (multi-response)
In this survey, which allows respondents to distinguish between different types of industry protection and between different industries, traditional protections from overseas competition have substantial support only in manufacturing and agriculture, and even then it is plurality and not majority support. Service industries are the least popular recipients of government largesse.
Years ago when I was researching public opinion on economic reform I concluded that (unsurprisingly) there was strong path dependency in people’s attitudes to industries. Where there was a history of public subsidy or tariffs continuing that support was always popular, with much less support for industries which had typically operated in a market. That pattern is evident here.
Alas, this means that the renewable energy industry is headed towards being another infant industry that never grows up, and will become a long-term mendicant that relies on politics rather than profits to sustain itself.