The majority of Australians prefer a policy of neutrality and oppose joining US wars under the ANZUS alliance, polling shows.
A US Air Force B-52 nuclear bomber flies over Canberra's parliament house in a fly past that seemed, to some at least, to be a darkly ominous message about who holds deep power in the nation's capital. Media at the time referred to it as 'a symbol of the enduring friendship between Australia and the United States of America'. (Photo: Supplied.)

A majority of Australians want Australia to adopt a policy of neutrality when it comes to considering a US war against China, according to the latest polling by the Lowy Institute think tank.

The poll, conducted in 2022, found 51% of Australians said they’d prefer Australia to remain ‘neutral’ in any US military conflict with China over Taiwan, down from 57% in 2020. [Fig: 1]

This runs so contrary to mainstream media representations of such polling that it’s worth stating again: The majority of Australians (51%) say they want Australia to maintain ‘neutrality’ in any US military conflict with China over Taiwan.

This remarkable finding reinforces earlier polling by the Lowy Institute that found most Australians, while happy to support our military involvement in humanitarian interventions or peacekeeping, do not want the country to ‘support US military action’ in a war against China – and the number of Australians saying this is increasing each year polled (2020 63%, up from 2013 60%). [Fig: 2]

At a time of hysterical pro-war reporting in many of Australia’s major mainstream news outlets, the views of the Australian public against the US alliance and the US push for confrontation with China, should gain some higher prominence; if our media was interested in balance. Media’s ignoring the majority view is undemocratic and not in Australia’s national interest.

Support for a US war with China low

The earlier poll conducted in 2020 found 63% of Australians do not support Australian military joining US military action in a conflict between China and Taiwan. The opposition to US military action against China has increased [archived here] by 9% from 2019, when 54% were against such military action. 

Since that remarkable result, Lowy Institute changed the polling question slightly in 2021 and 2022, but despite that they still found that most Australians want the country to remain neutral in any US military conflict with China over Taiwan.

Elsewhere the report asked a separate different question about if China ‘invaded Taiwan’. This saw Australian opposition to sending military forces that was at a majority of 54% in 2019, dropping to 47% in 2022. This near repetition of an earlier question in the same poll may seem odd, but it may be a case of asking varying versions of a question until finding the ‘right’ answer.

The Lowy pollsters seem to talk down the notable result on neutrality when they state: ‘A bare majority say Australia should remain neutral… almost half say Australia should support the US in this conflict.’ The last time I looked, a majority is still a majority in most democracies.

Figure 1: The 2022 Lowy Institute Poll has shown what Australians think of prospects of war between US and China:
Australians want a policy of neutrality. (Image: Lowy Institute)

What is fundamentally clear from this polling, however, is that in most polling the majority of the Australian public has made it known they do not want Australia to join a US war against China over Taiwan.

Support for ANZUS Alliance low

Australian ‘support’ for joining the US in any conflict under the ANZUS military alliance is also waning, the 2020 Lowy polling also shows. [Fig: 2]

A minority (40%) of Australians in 2020 agree with Australia supporting the US under the ANZUS alliance in a war in the Middle East, a reduction from 2013 when 48% supported such action under the Alliance. And that prior to the debacle in Afghanistan, the Taliban’s victory and Australia’s hasty retreat in 2021.

Even fewer Australians support Alliance action in our own region. In 2020 a smaller minority of just 34% of Australians agree with supporting the US under the ANZUS alliance in a war in Asia, a decrease from 2013 when 37% supported it.

The clear majority of Australians (68%) in 2020 say Australia ‘should only support US military action if it is authorised by the United Nations’.

Figure 2: The 2022 Lowy Institute Poll has shown what Australians think of prospects of military action under ANZUS:
Australians don’t want to be a part of it. (Image: Lowy Institute)

However, with all statistics, it depends on what questions are asked, and what answers are publicised. The Lowy report emphasises an obvious truism when it asks a different question in the 2022 poll, showing a majority of Australians generally consider the US alliance as ‘important’.

This ‘motherhood’ question allows pro-war media to shout: ‘Most Australians say Alliance is important.’ But while they may say it’s important, Australians don’t actually support it being used for Australia to join US wars.

The 2020 Lowy report very clearly states: ‘There is persistent reluctance to support military action under ANZUS. The majority of Australians (68% ) say “despite the alliance, Australia should only support US military action if it is authorised by the United Nations”.’

Clearly most Australians would rather support the UN-based ‘international legal order’, than the US-designed ‘rules-based order’.

Other polling supports this finding. A 2022 poll by the US Studies Centre shows that a large majority of Australians (76%) believe Australia should ‘develop a foreign policy that was independent of the global powers’.

Most say a US China war not in national interest

A further question in the Lowy poll shows that Australians, despite their antiwar majority, do well understand the current state of Australian democracy. They know that their wishes face headwinds in being translated into actual policy, and that, as with the Iraq war, it is probable they will be ignored and be dragged against their will into the next conflict.

The 2022 polling analysis shows 77%, the large majority of Australians, acknowledge the grim fact that ‘Australia’s alliance with the United States makes it more likely Australia will be drawn into a war in Asia that would not be in Australia’s interests’.

They call it democracy but know they have little input to any decision to commit the nation to war. That’s because the decision lays solely in the hands of the Prime Minister of the day, not in the elected parliament. A majority of Australians would like to see that changed too.

The sceptical public has decided. After 20 years of illegal and failed wars led by the United States, Australians are increasingly making it clear they have had enough. The collapse of all the dubious rationales for war have been noted by most of the population.

An estimated 240,000 were killed during the 20-year failed allied occupation of Afghanistan – most of them Afghan citizens. Here the body of one Australian soldier, Sgt Blaine Diddams of SASR, is returned home to his family and friends waiting at RAAF Base Pearce, Western Australia, on 9 July 2012, after being killed in a clash the Chorah region of Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan. (Photo: Cpl Chris Moore, Department of Defence)

Australians have seen through the lies over the non-existent Iraqi ‘weapons of mass destruction’, the dismal failure of the ‘nation building’ experiment in Afghanistan, and the thin arguments for our secretive war against Syria. And now, that well-founded scepticism has affected their views of a prospective war with China – the majority don’t want any part of it.

Fear-mongering up, fear up

Polling has seen Australians’ overall perception of safety drop, and fear levels jump. Is it little wonder? The high media prominence in 2022 of the new war between Ukraine and Russia, and repeated confrontations with China by US and Australian military ships and planes, has guaranteed that.

Over the past year, Lowy polling shows fear levels rose of China becoming ‘a military threat in the next 20 years’ with 32% now seeing in as ‘very likely’, up from an average of 16% with that view over the past decade. [‘Somewhat likely’ rose 31% to 43%.]

The Lowy Institute’s head of polling, Natasha Kassam, says “Anxiety about China has characterised Australian public opinion for the past three years, and now the vast majority of Australians believe China will pose a military threat to Australia in the next two decades.”

But that growing fear of the prospect of war with China is tied up in Australians’ overall wariness of the United States, and has not translated into a belligerent attitude against China.

Despite all the voices of the pro-war lobby on China, the scare-mongering by think tanks, the spruiking by the weapons merchants, the malign leaks to journalists, the assurances by defence officials, and dubious assertions of their political leaders – it seems the public is awake to them. 

Cracking a smile after being given a birthday cupcake and a can of Coca Cola, Defence Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, July 2022. (Photo: Defence Department)

It is perhaps surprising to see that, in the face of all this, the public’s support for a US war against China is actually persistently dropping.

Those pro-war voices may not have adequately considered that Australians live in a democracy. They could start to acknowledge this by reflecting the public’s view in statements and reporting, and in policy. 

The singularly pro-war stance of most mainstream media outlets has not convinced the majority. So we should expect a boost to the fear-mongering, more tales of spy cells, strange cyber hits, media embeds with military forces, smiling US Generals, new ‘cool’ attack warplanes, a rise in the US cultural push, and more empathy-building stories of nice Americans surviving terrible storms in Texas.

A recent news media special, published by Nine/SMH-Age, titled ‘Red Alert’ is an example of the biased reporting. The series would have been better titled ‘Red Scare’. 

The large three-day special report relies on five ‘experts’, but the article fails to say four of them are connected to a highly controversial think tank, Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), as staff, board member or contributor. Nowhere are the pro-war stance, foreign government funding, and weapons industry connections of ASPI mentioned.

The alarmist ‘Red Alert’ reports in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on 7 March 2023 gave an increasingly common biased ‘red scare’ line that is driving many readers to more independent media carrying a range of views, such as Declassified Australia, Pearls and Irritations, and Michael West Media.

Despite such media abuse, the public remains consistently opposed to US wars. The inability of the mainstream media to convince the majority is in fact driving their readers and viewers away. And they are heading to the internet and serious independent media sites for a more balanced perspective.

The danger in a kind heart

There are other messages that the majority of Australians can take away from the Lowy polling. 

While the majority of Australians oppose war, they overwhelmingly support the use of Australian military forces for humanitarian operations, and in peacemaking and peacekeeping roles. Between 75 and 80% of Australians expressed support for such military operations in the 2019 and 2022 polls.

But there is danger here. Those pushing us to war may be guided by this polling result and therefore dress up their arguments in words about ‘humanitarian war’ and ‘peacekeeping’. The overwhelming public goodwill towards the peacekeeping and humanitarian missions to assist the people of East Timor (1999-2007) and Bougainville (1998-2004), is open to being abused by the pro-war lobby.

The public should be on the lookout for pro-war voices using humanitarian justifications to advocate for Australia to join the US in their next war against China, as the Lowy poll put it, ‘to stop a government from committing genocide and killing large numbers of its own people’. 

The pro-war voices may have an increasingly difficult task, however, as they face being washed away by a generational tsunami. Polling shows that support for the United States is lowest, and declining, amongst young Australians. This is an amazing ‘fact on the ground’.

While 43% of people aged over 45 say Australia should remain neutral in a military conflict between the US and China, a whopping 60% of Australians aged 18-44 prefer neutrality, according to the Lowy’s 2022 polls. [Fig: 1, text]

We can expect the pro-war voices to increasingly target younger audiences.

Pushing the polling

“Australia’s new government will find support [in the polling results] for more defence spending, tough policies towards China and Russia, and stronger engagement in our region and on the world stage,” claims the Lowy Institute. 

However what it won’t find is a high level of support for US wars, including against China.

The Lowy Institute polling is an important measure of Australian opinion towards the United States. It is watched closely by foreign affairs and defence officials in Canberra, and in Washington.

The polling each year contains a grab-bag of information, with something for everyone. The actual results showing a drift from the US alliance and a favouring of neutrality, have been de-emphasised in much of the news reporting which has been dominated by the war in Ukraine and the fanning of a war with China.

The particular poll results preferred by the pro-war lobby will be wheeled out, and will be so-gleefully repeated in much of the media. But this present examination of the polling results show there is a hopeful message to be had in the actual attitudes of Australian, if only we are told of them.

Peter Cronau

PETER CRONAU is an award-winning investigative journalist, writer, and film-maker. His documentaries have appeared on ABC TV’s Four Corners and Radio National’s Background Briefing. He is an editor and cofounder of DECLASSIFIED AUSTRALIA. He is co-editor of the recent book A Secret Australia – Revealed by the WikiLeaks Exposés. View all posts by