Canberra may be Australia's social laboratory, but there could be more support for its policies across the nation than previously thought.
New research from The Australia Institute indicates a majority of Australians support some of the ACT's most controversial policies, including pill testing, 100 per cent renewable electricity and the switch to land tax.
The Canberra-based think tank conducted polling late last year to measure the nation's views on 11 of the ACT's most progressive policies, after Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews tried to claim his state was Australia's most forward thinking.
And in the wake of a federal election result that left some questioning Australians' appetite for radical changes, Australia Institute researcher Bill Browne said the results showed that "progressive, courageous policies were more popular broadly than what people thought" (although some will argue the only poll that counts did not).
The move from stamp duty to a land-based method of taxation - while controversial along Canberrans who have seen their rates soar in recent years - was supported by 57 per cent of the 1459 people polled. Twenty-three per cent of people opposed the policy while 20 per cent were unsure. The poll had a margin of error of 3 per cent.
The transition has been described as "politically fraught but economically sound". Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull once told Chief Minister Andrew Barr the reform required political courage of "11 out of 10".
And while the Canberra Liberals have vowed to halt the reform if elected next year, the poll found 57 per cent of those surveyed who identified as Coalition voters supported the move to land tax over stamp duty. Fifty-nine per cent of Labor and Greens voters also supported the policy.
The territory's switch to 100 per cent renewable electricity, which will be completed in less than three months, was supported by 78 per cent of respondents. Fourteen per cent were opposed.
While support was strongest among Labor and Greens voters (85 per cent), curiously it was higher among One Nation supporters than Coalition voters (68 versus 66 per cent).
Fifty-eight per cent of those polled also supported the ACT's pill testing policy, while 32 per cent were opposed.
While the highest levels of support were again among Greens and Labor voters (60 per cent), more than half (54 per cent) of Coalition supporters polled were also in favour of the policy.
Other policies that attracted broad support included:
- the decriminalisation of cannabis (56 per cent were in favour; 31 per cent were opposed);
- the creation of a public holiday for Reconciliation Day (58 per cent supported this; 32 per cent were opposed);
- the salt and pepper approach to public housing (69 per cent for; 20 per cent against);
- the construction of a light rail network (71 per cent in favour, 14 per cent against);
- creating an exclusion zone around polling booths where people cannot hand out electoral material (67 per cent in support, 18 per cent against);
- funding programs to reduce youth crime and incarceration (88 per cent for, 6 per cent against);
- introducing an assisted dying scheme (76 per cent in favour, 14 per cent against). The ACT was moving to legalise euthanasia when the federal parliament revoked the power of the territories to make laws on the issue more than 20 years ago.
The only policy that was not supported by a majority of Australians was the ACT's billboard ban. Forty-six per cent of respondents were against the policy while only 30 per cent were in favour.
The Australia Institute said the ACT's policies should serve as a template for other states and territories, as the territory had "done the work and taken the risk" to prove their viability.
"While the ACT has taken the lead on a number of policies, this should help other states adopt them," Mr Browne said.
However the ACT's political courage may be a byproduct of its electoral system.
"The ACT does have a number of qualities that make it more likely to be the first adopter of policies like this," Mr Browne said.
"Part of it is its electoral system which allows members of political parties to run against other members [through the Robson rotation].
"That means there's more policy distinction between members of parties as they have to differentiate themselves to the public directly instead of working through the party mechanism."
The long-term power-sharing arrangement between the Greens and Labor also showed how governments could work with crossbenchers on reform without "deadlock" or "chaos", the institute said.