CANBERRA - Concern for the environment is being eclipsed by more immediate fears for jobs and homes as the global financial crisis continues to pound Australia.
A new poll has shown that support for the emissions trading scheme promised by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is slipping - with the loudest calls for its delay or axing from the young, previously its strongest supporters.
And at each end of the age-scale fear and uncertainty is growing as investment funds lock away retirees' savings, more workers fret about losing their jobs, and business feels the bite of plunging confidence.
Federal Government plans to unlock billions of dollars to launch massive construction programmes are also now at risk as revenues fall and emergency measures to prime the nations economic pump eat into the budget surplus.
The one big beneficiary is Rudd, whose support is growing as Australians rally around his efforts to steer the nation through the crisis.
A Newspoll in the Australian said support for Rudd has climbed back to 65 per cent, similar to the peak he enjoyed when he delivered a formal apology to the Aboriginal Stolen Generations.
He is also also regarded as a far better economic manager than Opposition Leader and former merchant banker Malcolm Turnbull, by a margin of 50 per cent to 35 per cent.
But the same poll found that the environment is sliding towards the political horizon, lowering support for the previously surging Greens and undermining the strong backing his plans for an emissions trading scheme had earlier gathered.
The proposed scheme has been consistently attacked by industry and the Opposition, and has now come under further fire from Western Australia's new Liberal Government.
WA Treasurer Troy Buswell said the scheme would strangle investment in his big mining state, hammering jobs and families.
Newspoll reported that this fear was creeping through the scheme's former support base as the financial crisis dominates politics, headlines, and suburban fears.
It said that while 72 per cent still favoured an eventual emissions trading scheme despite its impact on energy costs, a majority now want it deferred if not dropped.
The number of people totally opposed to the scheme under any conditions has almost doubled to 21 per cent since July, while a further 30 per cent believe it should be delayed because of global financial turmoil.
Newspoll further said younger people - previously the scheme's strongest supporters - were turning against the plan because of the crisis. Those aged between 18 and 34 years are now most strongly in favour of a delay in its implementation.
A key to the swing in sentiment is fear for personal financial futures.
A survey by internet-based recruitment agency Seek has found that the number of Australians fearing for their jobs has soared from 35 per cent in August to 67 per cent, pushing job confidence to its lowest level since the survey began six years ago.
With a series of major sackings, fears of more to come and what the Government concedes will be a significant rise in unemployment, consumer fears are also shaking business.
Retailers are already bracing for a big hit in Christmas sales, and the latest National Australia Bank survey of business conditions plunged 11 points in the September quarter to minus four, one of the worst slumps in 20 years.
Businesses are also borrowing less, with business information service Veda Advantage reporting a dive in demand for business credit as managers batten down the hatches.
The crisis is also swamping retirees, with investment funds locking up investments worth A$25 billion ($28 billion) to protect themselves against possible mass withdrawals in the wake of the Government's decision not to extend its guarantee of bank deposits to market-based funds.
Government officials were yesterday locked in talks in a bid to find a way to release at least some money to desperate retirees, and Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner yesterday said as many as 500,000 may become eligible for pension assistance because of rapidly shrinking assets.