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Voters fear budget will hit the poor, survey shows

The big surprise in the most detailed qualitative study on post-budget sentiment is that the voters' hostility is largely driven by concerns it will promote a less equal and less caring society.

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Rather than direct their anger at measures that hit their hip pockets, many of those surveyed repeatedly express concern about the impact on others, especially their children and the poor.

"People are scratching their heads and asking: are the cuts directed at the right people? Is it good for our country to make things harder for our young people?" says Laura Demasi, research director at the Ipsos Social Research Institute.

"People were saying, 'I don't think this is going to affect me right now, but I don't feel comfortable about how it will affect the vulnerable. Are we setting ourselves up for a new era of inequality?'"

The report, How Australians are feeling about the economy and the future post budget, is likely to steel the resolve of Senate crossbenchers to block Coalition measures, from the deregulation of university fees to the $7 Medicare co-payment.


It is based on 12 group discussions with Australian men and women across all age groups in Sydney, Melbourne, the Gold Coast and Bendigo in the first week of this month and reveals deep confusion about how serious Australia's economic situation is, with some voters supporting the government's view that debt is out of control and others dismissing claims of a ''budget crisis'' as mere spin.

People expressed apprehension about the country's economic direction and the decline of the manufacturing industry. "Participants saw signs of economic decline all around them," the report says.

A strong sentiment that the budget "targeted the young, the older and the more vulnerable in our society" was evident, and so was "unambiguous concern" about changes to higher education funding, with voters fearing the young will be hit by higher fees, more difficulty getting a job and a tougher housing market.

The consensus view was that Prime Minister Tony Abbott's paid parental leave scheme is too generous, when the big concern was the availability, affordability and quality of childcare.

The altruistic outlook of voters was summed up by one who said: "I don't think there's going to be a huge negative effect on my family, but I can see a lot of families will be affected, and that bothers me."

Ms Demasi said she was struck by the number of people who opposed the changes to higher education, even though they would not be directly affected.

"While some felt we were going in the right direction, many are in a state of confusion, asking 'Is it really as bad and as serious as they made out?' and observing that Australia is looking a lot like America," she said.

Confusion and anxiety about the budget prompted complaints about the quality of political leaders, both Liberal and Labor.

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