A MAJOR new poll on Australians' view of themselves and the world has revealed a nation nervous at the rise of China, ambivalent about its own system of democracy and happy to spy on the neighbours - including New Zealand.
The latest Lowy Institute for International Affairs annual poll also holds wins and losses for Prime Minister Tony Abbott: approval of his tough line on asylum seekers, but rising concern about global warming, largely elbowed from the Government's priorities.
The poll, released yesterday, again confirms New Zealand as the closest nation to Australian hearts, with continued warmth towards the United States and growing approval of China - despite concerns over its rising power and investment in resources and agriculture.
The nation's affection for other countries is measured by a "feelings thermometer", which rates attitudes towards 21 nations on a "temperature" scale rising from zero to 100 degrees.
While placing New Zealand (84deg) at the top, the thermometer's most striking shift was a 6deg rise in China's rating to 60deg, its equal highest score since the scale was launched.
'This is despite more than half of poll respondents believing the Government allowed too much Chinese investment, and almost half saying that China was likely to present a military threat to Australia in the next two decades.
After New Zealand, Australians felt most warmly towards Canada, the Netherlands, France and the US. At the bottom were Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea.
Indonesia, where Abbott arrived yesterday in a bid to further heal the rift over spying revelations, was 16th on the scale, although most poll respondents described the relationship as "friendly".
But it was not without problems. The number saying relationship with Indonesia was worsening rose to 40 per cent, with Canberra's highest priorities with Jakarta seen as asylum seekers and people smuggling, regional security and terrorism.
Not has the spying row upset most Australians, who saw intelligence leaks as a threat of only moderate importance, behind wider fears of international terrorism, nuclear proliferation, cyber attacks and climate change.
.In fact, Australians are comfortable with the idea of spying on other countries. Most believed it was acceptable to spy on China, Indonesia, East Timor, the US - and New Zealand.
At home, the poll points to a fundamental problem for governments that have been scarred by voter anger, loss of faith and disillusionment that has seen significant number of voters either turning to micro-parties or disobeying the law by failing to vote.
It said that for the third year in a row a high number of Australians, particularly the young, are ambivalent about democracy.
Almost two-thirds, and only 42 per cent of 18-29 year-olds, believe democracy is preferable to any other kind of government.
"This year we probed these attitudes further, asking people why they have lost faith in Australia's democracy," the poll said. "The problem, it turns out, is not mere apathy, but genuine misgivings about the workings of Australian politics."
These were caused mainly by a feeling that democracy was not working because there is no real difference between the major parties, and that democracy only served the interests of the few and not the majority of society.
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