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Acceptance and Support of the Australian Carbon Policy


In July 2012, the Australian government instituted the Clean Energy Legislative Package. This policy, commonly known as the carbon policy or carbon tax, holds industries responsible for emissions they release through a carbon price. Because this will have an indirect effect on consumer costs, the policy also includes a compensation package for households indirectly impacted. This study, building upon past work in distributive justice, examines the determinants of the policy’s acceptance and support. We proposed perceived fairness and effectiveness of the policy, and endorsement of free-market ideology, would directly predict policy acceptance. We tested this through an on-line survey of Australian citizens and found that policy acceptance was predicted by perceived fairness and effectiveness. More Australians found the policy acceptable (43 %) than unacceptable (36 %), and many found it neither acceptable nor unacceptable (21 %). In contrast, when asked about support, more Australians tended not to support the policy (53 %) than support it (47 %). Support was predicted by main effects for perceived fairness, effectiveness, free-market ideology, and the interaction between free-market ideology and effectiveness. We conclude by considering some of the implications of our results for the implementation of policies addressing climate change mitigation and adaptation, for theories of social justice and attitudinal ambivalence, and for the continuing integration of research between economics and psychology. Furthermore, we argue for the distinction between policy support and acceptance and discourage the interchangeable use of these terms.

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  1. It can be argued that studying the acceptance of a policy is more important than acceptability because of the potential consequences of non-acceptance via opposition do not exist for hypothetical policies: breaking the law, civil disobedience, or revolt. We believe, however, that both are important, and studying the acceptance of the carbon policy in Australia was, in part, a result of research timing.

  2. See Bubna-Litic & Chalifour (2012) for their assessment of the carbon policy on Indigenous populations in Australia.

  3. Results from our initial analysis led us to ask more questions about the differences about policy support and acceptance, therefore, later in this paper we will discuss results based on policy support.

  4. This panel is administered by the Online Research Unit, an online fieldwork company with QSOAP “Gold Standard” and the new Global ISO 26362 standard accreditation.

  5. Equal variances assumed for all t tests.

  6. We thank one of our anonymous reviewers for this interesting speculation.

  7. We note that an Australian federal election is due in September 2013. The current Labour government may lose to a conservative coalition, and the coalition has promised, as an election platform, to repeal the carbon pricing legislation.

  8. We realize that only providing information via these proposed metrics is not an effective way to facilitate behavior change regarding policy support. However, we do believe it is an important part of the overall process.


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This research was supported by a research fellowship from the Endeavour Awards for the principal investigator and funds from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. We would like to thank Zoe Leviston, Henry Covey, and two anonymous peer reviewers for their helpful feedback.

Ethical Standards

This research has been assessed against the requirements of the National Statement as posing a low-risk to participants and has been granted ethics clearance in Australia by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Stacia J. Dreyer.

Appendix 1

Appendix 1

Thank you for participating in our survey. Please answer each statement or question as honestly as you can. There are no right or wrong answers; we are interested in your opinions.

Section 1

This section asks you to indicate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements.

   1 2 3 4 5
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agree Strongly Agree
1 An economic system based on free-markets unrestrained by government interference automatically works best to meet human needs.      
2 I support the free-market system, but not at the expense of environmental quality.      
3 The free-market system may be efficient for resource allocation, but it is limited in its capacity to promote social justice.      
4 The preservation of the free-market system is more important than localized environmental concerns.      
5 Free and unregulated markets pose important threats to sustainable development.      
6 The free-market system is likely to promote unsustainable consumption.      
7 Individual consumers should be financially compensated to offset increased costs on goods resulting from a carbon price.      
8 Industries should be responsible for paying for the greenhouse gases that they emit, such as carbon.      

Section 2

Last July, the Australian government instituted the Clean Energy Legislative Package. The government seeks to hold about 500 big industries responsible for the emissions they release through a carbon price, which will have an indirect effect on the price paid for goods. Therefore, the government has also created a compensation package for households indirectly impacted by the carbon price. Below is a quick summary of the government’s plan, as stated by their website, Clean Energy Future. Please read this summary to help you answer the following survey questions.

“The Clean Energy Legislative Package…includes the carbon pricing mechanism and delivers support for jobs and competitiveness and Australian’s economic growth, while reducing pollution. Households will be assisted through tax reform and increased payments.”

  • The overall increase in cost of living for average Australian households due to carbon pricing is expected to be modest … less than one cent for every dollar spent.

  • Average food costs are expected to increase by less than $1 per week, the average household electricity bill is expected to increase by $3.30 per week, and the average gas bill is expected to increase by $1.50 per week.

  • Households will not face a carbon price on the fuel they use for transport.

  • Around 60 % of taxpayers will receive a tax cut of at least $300 and no private citizens will pay more tax.

  • All the funds raised from the price on carbon will be used to provide the above-mentioned tax cuts and increase benefits to households, build a new clean energy future, and support jobs in highly affected industries


The following questions ask you about the current carbon policy, in general. It also asks about specific components of the policy such as carbon pricing and compensation. Please indicate your opinions on the scale.

9. How acceptable do you find the Clean Energy Legislative Package?

1 2 3 4 5
Completely unacceptable Somewhat unacceptable Neither acceptable nor not acceptable Somewhat acceptable Completely acceptable

10. How fair do you think it is that some big industries now must pay for the carbon they emit, as mandated by the carbon pricing policy?

1 2 3 4 5
Completely unfair Somewhat unfair Neutral Somewhat fair Completely fair

11. How effective do you think the carbon pricing policy will be to help lower carbon emissions from industries in Australia?

1 2 3 4 5
Completely ineffective Somewhat ineffective Neutral Somewhat effective Completely effective

12. How fair do you think the compensation plan is for those affected by increased costs due to the carbon price?

1 2 3 4 5
Completely unfair Somewhat unfair Neutral Somewhat fair Completely fair

13. How effective do you think the compensation plan is in reducing the financial impact of the carbon price on individuals?

1 2 3 4 5
Completely ineffective Somewhat ineffective Neutral Somewhat effective Completely effective

14. Do you support the carbon policy (The Clean Energy Legislative Package)?



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Dreyer, S.J., Walker, I. Acceptance and Support of the Australian Carbon Policy. Soc Just Res 26, 343–362 (2013).

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  • Social justice
  • Distributive justice
  • Carbon policy
  • Policy acceptance
  • Policy support
  • Effectiveness
  • Fairness