ALMOST 80 per cent of voters want direct Government intervention to cut petrol prices, the latest Herald /Nielsen poll finds.
Among those demanding action, three times as many support a cut in fuel excise, as proposed by the Opposition, than support the Government’s FuelWatch price information scheme.
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But with skyrocketing petrol prices a global phenomenon, the poll finds that Labor is slightly more trusted than the Coalition to handle the crisis, although most voters are dissatisfied with the job Kevin Rudd has done so far.
Amid riots and strikes over petrol prices in other countries, Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, said that it plans to increase its output next month to its highest ever level.
As it becomes increasingly nervous about the global political and economic effect of high prices, King Abdullah told the United Nations chief, Ban Ki-moon, that they were "abnormally high" and he was willing to do whatever he could to bring them down.
The Treasurer, Wayne Swan, returning yesterday from a Group of Eight finance ministers meeting in Japan, said: "There’s no doubt that global inflationary pressures – particularly rising food and oil prices – have become the most significant challenge currently facing the global economy."
Of the 1401 people polled by Nielsen from Thursday to Saturday, 56 per cent were unhappy with the Prime Minister’s handling of petrol but 38 per cent said Labor was best suited to handle it, compared with 34 per cent for the Coalition.
Petrol prices have become a key economic factor and the poll finds Labor’s economic credibility has grown in Government. Before the election, Labor trailed the Coalition by 29 percentage points on the economy but has now closed the gap to eight points.
Despite dominating domestic politics, petrol prices have yet to inflict significant damage on the Government. The poll shows primary and two-party support for both parties is virtually unchanged since a month ago when the petrol issue flared. Mr Rudd’s disapproval rating rose 5 points to 27 per cent and his approval rating slipped 2 percentage points to a still-lofty 67 per cent. The Opposition Leader, Brendan Nelson, who advocated a fuel excise cut of five cents a litre and successfully exploited Labor’s internal divisions over FuelWatch, was mildly rewarded. His approval rating rose 4 points to 38 per cent.
The poll finds 78 per cent want the Government to do something about petrol. Of these, two-thirds want fuel excise cut while fewer than a quarter back FuelWatch.
Last week in Japan, Mr Rudd put pressure on oil-producing nations to lift production and accused them of distorting the market by refusing to do so.
The Finance Minister, Lindsay Tanner, criticised petrol subsidies and caps on prices in Asian countries, saying they distorted the market and delayed the development of new technology.
"What we are seeing here … is a once-in-a-lifetime transformation in Asia where hundreds of millions of people are moving up from very basic peasant lifestyles into lifestyles that are much more resource-intensive, like ours."
That benefited Australia by driving the mining boom but also drove up petrol prices, he said. "It is important for Australia to put pressure on these other countries but of course we can’t force them to make those changes."
The Opposition agreed fuel subsidies were unsustainable but said Australia had no right to lecture neighbours.