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Jun 13, 2012

The collapse of trust -- led by older Australians

There has been a collapse of trust across the board in our key institutions -- with a single exception.

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Trust has been an important issue in politics over the past 12 months. Tony Abbott has made it a key issue in his campaign against Julia Gillard, and succeeded in placing the Prime Minister’s trustworthiness, or lack thereof, in the centre of the political narrative.

But it’s no longer the Prime Minister alone. Key Australian institutions appear to be facing a collapse in trust, yesterday’s Essential Report showed, one that has spread beyond politics.

The epicentre of the collapse is federal Parliament, which suffered a huge fall in trust. From one of Australia’s most-trusted institutions last year, with 55% of voters saying they had a lot or some trust, Parliament now only records a 22% rating, placing it among the lowest. Well done, politicians.

Who stopped trusting Parliament? We need to be careful about making judgments about demographics because of sample size, but it appears to be older voters. In September last year when Essential last asked this question, there was little to distinguish voters in their attitudes to Parliament. Now, older voters are significantly different in their views: for example, 19% of 18-24 year old voters have no trust at all in Parliament; 30% of 25-34-year-olds, but 45% of over-65s. Ten per cent of 18-24-year-olds have a lot of trust; 1% of over-65s, 2% of 55-64-year-olds.

Political parties are the least trusted of all the organisations or institutions that featured in the question, with just 12% of voters expressing a lot or some trust; 52% of voters just didn’t trust parties at all. But parties haven’t featured in previous questions, so we don’t know to what extent that has changed.

Trade unions have also suffered reputationally, presumably as an outcome of the Craig Thomson affair; they’re down from 39% to 22% trust. That’s right across all demographics, but especially older voters: they were less likely to trust unions last September than others, but that sentiment has dramatically hardened since then — 36% of over-65s didn’t trust unions at all back then; now that’s 54%.

And the Commonwealth Public Service has also fallen significantly, from 49% when a similar question was asked in February this year, to 30% now; again older voters have led the way, despite the Public Service barely featuring in public debate other than as a target for big cuts by both sides of politics. Even the High Court and the Reserve Bank, the two most trusted institutions last September, have fallen; the High Court from 72% to 60% and the RBA from 67% to 49% (despite several big rate cuts). But for those two bodies, there’s no older voter bias — in fact if anything, older voters have more trust in them than younger voters.

But the collapse doesn’t stop there. It has rippled outward from government. Like unions, business groups have fallen in trust, from 38% to 22%, almost exactly matching unions, but it’s been a general fall across all demographics. Charitable organisations fell 61% to 50%; environment groups from 45% to 32% (older voters really distrust environment groups). Even religious organisations, which were already low in trust, fell, from 29% to 27% (religious organisations are uniformly not trusted; there are no significant demographic differences.

New additions to the list all fared poorly: TV news media, newspapers and online news media scored 21%, 26% and 23% respectively, with older voters consistently showing less trust in all media. The only institution to lift its trustworthiness (and rebut the possibility of some methodological cause for the general fall across institutions) is the ABC, which lifted from 46% to 54%, primarily it seems on the back of fewer people claiming they had no trust at all in the national broadcaster.

This complements previous findings when Essential has asked media-specific trust questions (last run in November; they’ll be run again in coming weeks), which have shown over the past 18 months that commercial media has fallen in trust levels but the ABC (and SBS, to a lesser extent), have risen.

The reasons for Parliament and trade unions falling in trust are clear; it’s less clear why they’ve dragged other, independent governmental institutions down with them, or the latter have declined as part of a wider malaise in attitudes. And the ABC’s apparently unstoppable rise as a trusted element of Australian public life continues, particularly in contrast to the rest of the media, but is equally mysterious.

Nonetheless, we can add trust to our growing picture of voter alienation. However good things might be economically, Australians are not a happy lot.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Bernard Keane is Crikey’s political editor. Before that he was Crikey’s Canberra press gallery correspondent, covering politics, national security and economics.

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31 comments

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31 thoughts on “The collapse of trust — led by older Australians

  1. Edward James

    The level of trust was once self perpetuating, when information was limited and so slow to spread through the community week to week compared to now with a twenty four hour news cycle. Community groups publish their own news letters and when politicians, or the local councils get caught out mishandling the truth, That information is now spread with speed and ease where it counts. It is not so easy for those with power influence and advertising revenues to peddle, to stone wall taxpayers in the main stream. It is certainly long over due for members of the of the community at grass roots to be talking to one another and asking how Union and Political party members can continue to support such garbage representation from shonks. How many dodgy politicians do you really believe done their thing such as rorting the way office staff were paid in the case of two NSW MPs, without those around them having any knowledge? Or the MP for Swansea now doing bird, parents were complaining for years. Now that it is no secret these people whom we have given our votes to in trust in the past are not worthy of that trust, we see and discuss just how dodgy their personal values are, collectively they demonstrate an amazing ability to impersonate the three monkeys. The way we are governed or misgoverned depending on your point of view is entirely up to the people at the bottom, with votes to exercise, the majority. We are the ones who do control any mandate given to that small minority of politicians whom we elect to exercise their influence and represent our best interest. Edward James

  2. mick j

    Our social structure has been breaking down over the past few decades and people in public life have begun to behave in a lest honest manner and have become unaccountable and in some cases dishonest. Politicians have earned the ire of the public because of their often intentional broken promises. The Public Service now have joined the fray and are more lapdogs to our pollies rather than independent professionals.

    I save my worst for Local Government. In recent history senior staff and elected representatives have often intentionally lied about issues and just plain ignored the truth. In my own electorate we had council state that it “lost the report” when 5 people died when the Pacific Highway collapsed a few years ago because itl refused to fix the known problem. Thereafter photos from council appeared and it appears most likely to be a cover up involving the council and the then state government who were both fighting abs to whom should fund the road repair. Council was fully aware but the inquiry apparently had a limited range of reference and everyone moved on once the matter had had due diligence.

    We then have the matter of the condoned use of residential homes as suitable places for all night bucks, hens, parties and gaming functions by investors and the real estate industry, contrary to the zoning. Whilst the real estate industry is clearly behind this misuse never being changed (it is a holy cash cow to the industry) the response of council until recent times was to either ignore the matter or claim “no legislation” (an outright lie!!) with the General Manager of the local council responding to requests from the Ombudsmans Office claiming that he had not ever had a complaint (another lie!!).

    I guess we all have to take into account that society is changing for the worst and that morals and honesty are virtues which are fast disappearing from the Australian landscape. We will all be the worse off for this and those of us who have seen the other side will lament the passing of a golden age.

  3. mick j

    Don’t call me Pauline Bill but ‘please explain’.

    Are you saying that people are complaining because they have it so good?

    In all fairness Ed James is spot on the money. Government has become a web with all 3 levels interwoven and corruption occurring on a regular basis because they can get away with it. Why can they get away with it? Because the media is luke warm at best and because politics has become a club frequented by some who are lawless and others who will not rock the boat lest they end up on a limb. What Ed is talking about is the real thing. What is unreal is that the bastards control the game and even deaths caused by intentional negligence results in not one prosecution. You might also wonder why there have been no prosecutions in the AWB scandal where a corrupt regime was paid (bribe) money in the sale of Australian wheat. Other countries managed to convict their criminals. Australia had the same but the officer in charge of the inquiry was not only funded and obstructed during his investigations but the plug was prematurely pulled and the officer sacked so that no wrongdoers could be found. Australian corruption in progress.

    Perhaps a current avenue of investigation might be how it is that a former Labor Prime Minister finds himself involved in flogging off Australian agricultural land for commission (who knows the exact arrangements are secret) with the backing of his Party. The land concerned is being sold as Freehold and will not return $1 to Australians nationals because the food produced will be shipped back to China. This is a national disgrace, it is corruption of the highest order and it would not occur in most developed countries without high profile heads rolling. So why does it occur in Australia?

    Maybe my belly is too full Bill. But where are the real Australians who give a damn? Down the pub or at the footy I venture to say, not looking after what belongs to them and their grandchildren.

    Keep up the rage Ed James. If we had more like you we would have less corruption in high places.

  4. Queen Clytie

    As the CEO of a small, not-for-profit citizen based advocacy organisation I am experiencing the total oppoiste of this. Trust in our organisation is growing as is our membership and engagement of that membership. I contrast this with my private/personal experience as a member of a political party where my “trust” is diminishing because these things are not present.
    There are five things that I see in my own organisation which I do not see in the institutions which are discussed here which I think contribute to whether or not people trust and therefore are willing to be active and engaged. They will apply in different ways to different institutions of course.In my experience as a member of a political party, I might experience these traits at the local branch level, or there might be individual people I trust, but if these experiences aren’t demonstrated throughout the organisation into the leadership, then I am not going to trust that party as an institution.

    1. Integrity – you have to know who you are, be who you are, and behave in a way which is consistent with that. And that integrity has to flow right through an organisation from its grassroots right through to its leadership.

    2. Personal connection – trust is a very personal thing. For me to trust an organisation/institution I need to trust the people involved in it. To trust them, I need to have some kind of personal connection to them. This doesn’t mean I have to know them personally, of course but I have to have a sense of knowing who they are, what they believe. I have to have confidence that they are there for reasons of integrity and not for personal gain or for their own agenda.

    Alternatively, that institution has to appeal to something personally within me. It has to motivate me.

    There has to be something I want to change, to want to be part of, and I have to feel that an organisation shares that and will offer me a way to be part of that change.

    3. Involvement/value – to trust an institution/organisation, people have to feel valued and they have to feel like they have a voice and a way of being involved that is not tokenistic. There is nothing people who try to be active hate more than not being given an opportunity to do so.

    4. A “claim” to authority – institutions very often assume that they have an authority within our community, and by the very nature of institutions this authority is very rarely questioned.
    I think that if organisations claim an authority, a voice, or to represent someone – then those people have to endorse that – if I don’t trust you, what right do you have to claim to represent me.You don’t get to just state that you represent someone, you have to actually do the leg work, make the relationships, demonstrate to the people you claim to represent that you do.

    5. Accountability – you have to be transparent and accountable for your actions.

    4.

  5. Edward James

    @ HAMIS HILL Posted Friday, 15 June 2012 at 11:37 am | Permalink I believe I understand what you are saying Hamis about peoples trying to change the existing system. There are a lot of those peoples out there, many are trying to hook up with existing political groups. I was part of that process for a few years. I know standing alone outside the oldest parliament in this country asking elected reps to exercise their influence on my fathers behalf for years is a learning experience. I learnt my elected reps are full of hit. Until the night five people died in a ditch at Piles Creek Somersby. When, some say I went “feral” because the political allsorts I was attempting to engage with were no dam good, and people had died because of their inaction. It was a few years after that some people in my community who were disenchanted with the two parties not much preferred. Came to me and asked for assistance in their fight to have our rehabilitation ward returned to Woy Woy Public Hospital. Being in a position to run full and half page ads in my local paper on behalf of the group which became known as the Woy Woy Public Hospital Alliance meant we were not dependent on News Limited papers to to inform the wider community about the political sins of our elected representatives, on both sides of government. Made a big difference to how the community was able to fight for their rights to have adequate medical amenity returned to those who had worked and paid to put it in place in the first place. I note GREENS are losing some members I am not surprised because I have seen very little evidence from John Kaye and other senior GREENS party members, to indicate they care about the often published allegations identifying corruption in local councils. I have my own experience of what works for me Hamis I believe I have destroyed several political careers. It has been a long time since our elected reps have looked after grass roots members of communities peoples who are not actually politically aligned, who give their votes in trust to put politicians in power. I have in the past named politicians and identified them as liars in print in public. It is on the public record with links published on Crikey. While it is a shame other disenfranchised voters remain silent. I have done my own thing. I often tell people they would be far better off spending their money, changing the political face of politics starting in the local government area than taking political arguments into a court of law. Crikey readers have always been able to use the phone to contact me. I do not know about you but I am sick of my taxes being used to pay spin doctors and staff who are preventing constituents from directly interacting with our elected representatives. Edward James

  6. mick j

    Edward James is on the money. I believe that the 5 people who were killed on the Pacific Highway were in the wrong place at the wrong time and died because of a feud between the State Labor Government and Gosford City Council, neither of which wanted to be responsible for funding the upkeep of the Pacific Highway. What is almost as bad as the deaths of these 5 innocent people is the corruption from the State Labor Government and Gosford City Council. The Clayton’s inquiry which followed apparently had a limited frame of reference. This means that the inquiry INTENTIONALLY left out some of the evidence which would have refuted council’s lie that it had “lost the report”. There are photos available showing that council knew all along. Nobody was ever held to account and the credibility of our whole system of government has gone down the gurgler. You know what they say about nothing corrupting like absolute power. At the end of the day both sides simply shrugged their shoulders, stated that an inquiry had been held (the public show!!) and moved on….a bit like when Gosford Council gambled away $50 million of ratepayers money. The same shrug of the shoulders with the culprits then lying in the local newspaper about how it had not lost any money at whilst at the same time refusing to print the figures.

    As for the Greens I believe that what has cost them a bit of support is the Gay Marriage push. Whilst some people don’t care either way some Australians did not enjoy having their noses wiped in the dirt as there are still beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman.

    Like Edward James I wish that more Australians gave a damn and stood to be countered. Unfortunately Australians generally have become wimps and are too scared to offer an opinion different to the crowd. When elections come up they vote for names they have heard….God help us.

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