Australians have had a major shift in what they are most concerned about, with China’s threat to Australia overtaking the worries of COVID-19 and climate change.
A new Lowy Institute poll has revealed 92 per cent of those surveyed say they are “very” or “somewhat concerned” about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while 65 per cent see China’s foreign policy and conflict over Taiwan as top concerns for Australians.
Three-quarters of the country also view China as a military threat to Australia over the next 20 years, with trust in Beijing and confidence in China’s President Xi Jinping at an all-time low.
It comes as Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is meeting with world leaders in Spain for the NATO summit to echo these same concerns, especially the growing tensions presented by China and Russia.
Lowy Institute polling director Natasha Kassam said anxiety about Russia, China and a war over Taiwan had topped Australians’ worries, above the pandemic and climate change.
She also said 51 per cent of Australians would support the Australian Defence Force being involved if China invaded Taiwan — which is a 20-point increase since 2019.
“This year’s poll reveals that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shaken Australians’ view of their own security and region,” she said.
“Australia’s new government will find support for more defence spending, tough policies towards China and Russia, and stronger engagement in our region and on the world stage.”
The survey conducted by the Social Research Centre of more than 2000 Australian adults in March — before the Federal election — shows seven in 10 Australians favour the plan to acquire nuclear-powered submarines.
About 50 per cent say AUKUS and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue will make Australia safer.
They also want a more open and inclusive approach to issues such as immigration and free trade.
“There’s a growing awareness of the countries in our region that are democracies, and concern about authoritarian States,” Ms Kassam said.
“Australians remain positive about globalisation and free trade, and far fewer see COVID-19 as a threat in 2022.”
Mr Albanese called out the “special relationship” between China and Russia on his arrival in Madrid on Monday night, saying the NATO meeting he is attending comes at “a critical time for the world”.
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine… is a reminder that even an island continent like Australia, across the other side of the world, has been impacted by this with rising petrol prices and the difficult issues relating to the supply chains,” he said.
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine came just after the arrangement was made of the special relationship between Russia and China.
“That reinforces the need for us to be engaged and I’m very pleased to be here representing Australia at this NATO summit.”
The Prime Minister will this week head to Paris at the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron to mend the relationship between the countries after the $90 billion submarines deal was scrapped by the Morrison government in 2021.
He is also weighing up an invitation to visit Ukraine while in Europe as he looks at ways to boost Australia’s embassy presence in the war-torn country.
“We’ll continue to take security advice. Clearly, we have a security situation which is changing day-by-day,” Mr Albanese said on Tuesday.
“And this act of aggression, there have been further missiles into Kyiv as well, mean that the world just looks at what is going on there and collectively condemns it.
“We would like to have a presence on the ground there to assist and to be able to provide that on-ground presence. And I’ll have more to say on that in coming days and weeks.”