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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.


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.


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

  1. Mike Smith

    They just sent a survey to me – and I’ve marked Abbott further down on trustworthiness than Gillard. Karma’s a b*tch, Abbott!

  2. khtagh

    oh my god, they actually asked someone here. Well that’s one.

    Is it just my old memory but isn’t it co-incidental that all the reports “Key Australian institutions appear to be facing a collapse in trust”

    Every institution has at one time or other coped a bagging from the great destroyer Mad Monk & his muck bucket team.

    Why would anyone have any confidence in anything in this country if they listen to him. Maybe the amount of coverage of this despicable person on the MSM has more to do with these figures than anything else? So how do we survey that?

  3. 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

  4. hannah rachel bell

    Tony Abbott, when you make Trust or lack of it the centrepiece of your platform on everything, how naive are you to not realise that, if you are successful, you create Mistrust in all public institutions. Sow suspicion, you reap exactly that. Sow mistrust, you become as untrustworthy as your targets. Nett result? A disengaged, discontented, depressed public. Congratulations Mr Abbott! You, with the able assistance of Christopher Pyne and poor ol’ Joe Hockey, have created this garden of discontent.

  5. Hamis Hill

    Of course older Australians will suffer a collapse of trust when they are told the will go to
    their deaths living in poverty because someone decided to destroy the economy
    just to show how powerful they are. you would tend to lose your trust under such
    This not so much a reflection on the present government whichis, after all, trying
    to preserve the economy.
    Any contingency plans in place for the complete collapse of governance under
    the rule of economic illiteracy?
    Community self reliance and grassroots participatory democracy?
    The best organised community will win and rather like Kruschev’s threat to rebuild the world
    on the rubble of the west a certain religious minority, very successful, they have
    their own schools and universities, can no doubt see an advantage in building
    on the rubble of the secular democracies. The Third Reich failed are the cut
    snakes regrouping for the Fourth? Seen any massacres in Norway recently?

  6. 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.

  7. klewso

    How is Abbott’s trustworthiness being measured?

  8. Edward James

    Hang on a minute Hanna Rachel Bell. Our Federal and State Parliaments and Local councils are full of dead wood political allsorts, who won’t engage with their constituents when those constituents complain about politicians committing what I have been identifying for years in local papers as “political sins against the peoples” We have local council elections coming up on September the 8 in NSW, the scraps that are left of Labor have been very quiet here on the Central Coast. While Labor was in power in NSW there was little point in complaining about misgovernance to the Minster for Local Government about local councils which had Labor Party members sitting as councilors, because of the obvious non pecuniary conflict of interest. Nothing much related to conflict has changed despite the Clover Moor stunt, since Liberal National Coalition was voted control of our NSW Parliament. The conflict is still there, party members will not turn up the heat on their own party members on the floor of Parliament even when those party members are accommodating what I have identified as political sins against the peoples! Edward James

  9. Mike Smith

    Do you need to measure trustworthiness of a self-confessed liar?

  10. Hamis Hill

    Backing Edward James’ assertions are the findings by Ian Temby QC the first Independent
    CommissionerCorrupti Against on that a “Climate conducive to Corruption ” existed in
    Local Government. Tembby’s criteria for corrupion were incompetence and
    misconduct. So the odds for “political sins against the people” remain very high.

  11. Edward James

    Politics is a team activity Mike Smith. While we grass roots voters may identify politicians who are no dam good. We must consider and ask them other politicians who stand to their political team players left and right and ask how they can support dodgy politicians? I don not need the media to tell me something is wrong with how I am governed. I have first hand experience with my elected reps accommodating political sins against their constituents. Edward James

  12. mick j

    The real issue is that it is nobody’s responsibility to do anything about misconduct and/or corruption when it occurs. The ICAC is a dead horse which is under-resourced and it WILL NOT INVESTIGATE even when there are grounds to do so. This is an indictment of the system and the ICAC only acts when an open and shut case with all the evidence is laid before them. This is not what voters expect when corrupt activity is occurring and doing nothing just erodes the goodwill capital of the electorate, which then becomes apathetic because they know that nothing is going to change.

  13. Edward James

    @ Hamis Hill. A long time ago Barbara Armitage, at the time she was the longest serving Mayor in NSW. Gave me a copy of Ian Tembey’s findings, it is around here somewhere. I was not that interested in how we are governed back then. It is a shame when the people come close to pinning some shonk politician down they default to being incompetent. Local councilors are often accused of caucusing with the party in power at State level of Government. Gosford City Council with a body count of five, Canterbury City Council, the farce surrounding the Mallone family. Are examples of misgovernance accommodated by alternate State governments Labor and now Liberal National Coalition. Edward James

  14. Edward James

    @ Mick J. There are enough of us taxpayers and ratepayers our here who have letters from ICAC thanking us for the information. Telling us it will be noted, but the ICAC is limited in what it can pursue. The matters raised can’t be pursued at this time. What a dam farce that is. My own complaints about Gosford City Council malfeasance have been folded over into the findings of human error in the death of five people at Piles Creek Somersby. I have published allegations the council misled the State coroner, which have run here on crikey, with links. Yet nothing is happening perhaps because most taxpayers are not all that worried about the down side to systemic malfeasance nonfeasance and misfeasance being accommodated by our elected representatives. Edward James

  15. Hamis Hill

    Or, it could be that the essentially protestant Christian democratic values of
    Australia have been systematically undermined since “that” church illegally
    brought into the country war criminals of their religious persuation post 1945.
    Note how, following Keating’s Kokoda focus for remembrance all the exploits of
    Australians against said war criminals in WWII Europe have been effectively
    wiped from the national memor. No? then explain how during the troubles in
    Lybia, Egypt Palestine and Syria no remembrance of the Australians who died
    there in uniform have been mentioned. According to Keating’s logic they were
    not really “Australian” because they fought alongside their British Empire
    When a religious minority maliciously antagonistic to democracy inveigles
    itself into government yo can “Trust” that democratic institutions will be
    Welcome to the Banana Republic we had to have!

  16. Edward James

    Why can’t we Australians keep focus on the very ordinary process of governance ? Ratepayers and taxpayers know who it is who direct the way our rates and taxes are being spent and the way we are governed. I have supplied my phone number an contact details. Because my elected reps are shonky, I can’t be the only taxpayer who complains about corrupt politicians. Bernard Keane is your phone working ? Are journalist really interesting in exposing items which are news worthy? Edward James 0243419140.

  17. Bill Hilliger

    A classic example of when the belly is full, people tend to become unhappy.

  18. 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.

  19. AR

    WillH – to which Bob Marley sang “..an ‘ungry mob his an angry mob”. My personal preference would be for every school & uni leaver to be given a year’s dole and a ONE WAY ticket to Europe. The cash to allow a bit of a cushion and the one way ticket so that they have to earn the return flight by working in the local economy. When they returned (took my nearly 30 years, kids & wotnot…) they’d be sooo relieved to resume the life we have in Oz that they be head down tail up in gratitude and desire to do well.
    They might even enter politics armed with a new broom& some ideas!

  20. Bill Hilliger

    @MJ to put a point to my observation – your quote: “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”. MJ I can think of many places where there is truly a bad dishonest, government but the country I live in will suffice for me. And yes, we do need some still hungry people to bring about change for the better and make polititians at all levels more accountable. Having said that I’m not aware of any country that does not suffer from our malaise e.g. Canada, UK, USA, etc. including a dominant and very negative media. I see the AWB scandal as more perverse than Craig Thomson but we live in different times with a opposition willing to overlook AWB and maintain constant negativity that seems to rub off on many.

  21. Bill Hilliger

    @MJ furthermore, the Government system we live under unfortunately allows land to be sold to foreigners – Vesty’s owned a large portion of the NT, other organisations still own large areas of our farming land, but – what they cannot do is physically take away the land. Trouble is the market system we live under allows land owners to sell their land to whom they want and they do just that.

  22. Bill Hilliger

    @AR – Thats the point I was trying to make.

  23. Bill Hilliger

    @MJ British company Vesty’s finally went away the large portions of NT land they owned now belongs to the Holmes a Court family company Heytsbury.

  24. Edward James

    Thanks for the phone call. Always a pleasure to talk with others who are actively engaged in influencing the way we are governed. So many if not all of the dodgy politicians on both sides of government who get exposed by one means and another, would have been identified by those who work with them in public office as “wrongens” long before their lack of good personal values became public knowledge. It is no secret membership of political parties and unions is dropping like a stone. I believe that is occurring because most people have no idea how to deal with those abusing their power so they just leave. So many politicians I have met during the last decade have no interest in addressing often published allegations of corruption perhaps thats because their parties are tainted by the fact they accommodate systemic corruption and abuse of power. Edward James

  25. Barbara Boyle

    Yes,the major political parties are so on the nose. But, what about the the Independants and greens? has no-one noticed the abuse they cop?
    I wonder just what the great, disenchanted, yes, “angry” if you like( though I doubt these people have the energy for ire) Australians do with all the time freed up by their disengagement in the political process

  26. Barbara Boyle

    erm, make the 4th last word ‘from’.

  27. 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.


  28. Hamis Hill

    Edward James in my experience people try to change the existing political
    system once they they have been briused by some clever major party politicians
    and subsequently no longer extend to the culprits the benefit of the doubt that
    they previously enjoyed.
    The direct consequence, with others in a grass roots democracy movement-
    Charles Blunt, the Leader of The National Party was bundled out of office.
    Twelve years later, under the same operating principle of direct voter involvement
    the first, directly elected Greens member of a lower house anywhere in the world
    won a safe, right-wing dominated labor seat. The Bob Brown Factor in either
    case non-existant.
    The successful Green Bans in Sydney in 1972 is the catalyst with nery a major
    party politician in sight. Just unions and the community.
    The Real Greens worldwide got their name and their principle of grass roots
    participatory democracy right here in Australia and they still do not know or
    care about single-issue conservationism Tasmanian style. No democracy in that crew.
    So Edward James you can win, even without any political party, just look at the
    people of Pittwater regaining their independence from the corrupt Wahringah
    Shire council. Tony Abbott’s turf.

  29. 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

  30. Edward James

    @ HAMIS HILL Posted Friday, 15 June 2012 at 11:37 am | Permalink Thank for your comment I tried to respond. but due to key words. It would be easier to use my phone number than wait for moderation! Cheers Edward James 0243419140

  31. 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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