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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 comments

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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
    circumstances.
    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.

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