A CEDA-Business Spectator "Big Issues" survey has revealed widespread support for an end to stimulus spending, and for tighter budget discipline on the part of the Federal Government.
The survey has also revealed near-universal acceptance of the vital role to be played in Australia's economic prosperity of growing trade and investment links with China in the coming decade.
The survey produced majority support for immigration at an intake of 200,000 new arrivals a year, and reflects less anxiety among Australians than might be expected about the policy challenges surrounding population growth.
However, the survey indicated widespread apprehension about the potential impact of water shortages on economic development, and strong divisions over when and in what circumstances Australia should put a price or tax on carbon emissions.
And, in sobering news for federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, the survey has uncovered significant scepticism about the proposed $43 billion national broadband network. A total of 60 per cent of respondents disagreed that the NBN was a worthwhile use of public funds, with only 27 per cent in support of it.
Fifty-nine per cent said they were quite happy with their broadband speeds from existing technologies, and 62.6 per cent said they would not be happy to pay a significant premium for higher broadband speeds. Less than one quarter said they thought fibre optic cable was the only technology able to deliver the broadband speeds they need for their private or professional use.
This year, for the first time, the annual CEDA "Big Issues" survey has been run in conjunction with Australia's pre-eminent on-line business news website, Business Spectator. It has provided CEDA trustees, along with readers of the Business Spectator, the opportunity to have their say on some of the critical economic policy challenges facing Australia.
The response has been impressive. Almost 3000 individuals responded to the survey questionnaire.
The survey is not a standard opinion poll. It tests the attitudes only of CEDA trustees and Business Spectator readers who have chosen to respond to the survey questionnaire.
More than is typical, the survey respondents will be engaged routinely, if not daily, in the public debate around economic policy settings.
The results of the "Big Issues" survey will be discussed in greater detail over coming weeks as Business Spectator and CEDA produce a series of reports and analysis on the on the key public policy choices Australia faces to position itself strongly at a time of uncertainty globally.
The series begins today with leading business journalist, Business Spectator's Alan Kohler providing his analysis of the survey findings. The opening day of the series takes a close look at Australia's water scarcity challenges, including extensive analysis of Australia's management of the millennial drought - and the policy implications of the guide to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. It includes written commentary by Harvard University's Professor John Briscoe and CEDA national research and policy director Dr Michael Porter, two of the principals in CEDA's collaboration with Harvard, Melbourne and Monash Universities in the Australian Water Research Project.
Watch a three-part video discussion of the issues with Professor Briscoe, Dr Porter and director of Uniwater, Melbourne University's Professor John Langford.
In the "Big Issues" survey, the questions relating to water management and supply produced the closest outcomes, with the sample split over the implications of water scarcity for economic development. When asked whether Australia's water reforms, desalination plants, pipelines and irrigation efficiencies were capable of ensuring economic development at the same pace into the future, 37.5 per cent agreed, 38 per cent disagreed and almost 25 per cent were undecided
The reaction to desalination plants was similarly inconclusive. Forty-three per cent agreed this capital outlay was a sensible form of insurance for urban water supply, while 39 per cent disagreed.
Again reaffirming the lack of certainty about policy outcomes in this area, fully 60.44 per cent of the survey agreed with the proposition that Australia's economic development was seriously constrained by water shortages.
Against this backdrop, 57.6 per cent of those surveyed agreed that mandatory measures to reduce consumer demand (water restrictions) were an efficient policy measure.
In their analysis, the principals of the CEDA-Uniwater-Harvard water research project argue that Australia has in fact done better than any arid nation in the world in its water management, in the face of the "stress test" imposed by a decade-long drought.
Moreover, they argue that ongoing reform through precision irrigation, more realistic pricing of water, and competitive trading markets, will provide Australia with comparative advantages that should improve, rather than constrain, its aspirations to be a major food producer for Asian markets.