Surprise! Tony’s trust issues. Before last year’s election, Tony Abbott promised: ”We will be a no surprises, no excuses government, because you are sick of nasty surprises and lame excuses from people that you have trusted with your future’.”

But that was six months ago. The past two weeks have ushered in the sort of wild-eyed, back-of-the-envelope, batshit-crazy policy proposals that probably started life as thought bubbles and should have — in the words of Kristina Keneally — had a stake driven through their hearts.

Without warning, and with almost no consultation, the PM has announced that he is letting the cowboys loose on our pensioners, giving the tick to bigotry, and bringing back knighthoods. It’s as if he thought Future Shock was a manifesto rather than a warning. But voters don’t like to be shocked, preferring John Howard’s “relaxed and comfortable” style of government. Will the knights and dames announcement trigger a crisis of trust for the new government? Or is it, in the words of commentator George Megalogenis, Abbott’s “sauce bottle” moment, “when the public laughed so hard they didn’t hear another word he said”?

The Scanlon Foundation, in conjunction with Victoria’s Monash University, produces an annual survey that measures trust in political structures, among other things. The most recent Social Cohesion Survey (which came out late last year) indicated that only 27% of respondents thought that the federal government could be trusted most of the time, down from 48% in 2009. The biggest fall in that measure, to 31%, came in 2010, when the poll was taken after Kevin Rudd had reneged on the climate change policy and had been rolled by Julia Gillard.

This result echoes the prevailing political orthodoxy, which says that public trust in our political institutions is being destroyed. But the situation may not be that simple. According to the University of Melbourne’s Professor Jackie Dickenson, Australians have “never completely trusted their politicians and to a degree, are right not to have done so. As the British philosopher Onora O’Neill has argued, it’s perfectly sensible to trust only those you know personally,” she said.

Dickenson’s book, Trust Me: Australians and their politicians, examines the trust between voters and politicians from the start of representative democracy in Australia in the 1850s to the present day.

“The professionalisation of politics, the payment of members, the difficulty an MP faces maintaining her or his independence in the face of party machinery — all of which remain problems today — have had a long history in Australian politics,” she said. “The language emphasises change with the context, but the themes remain broadly the same across 150 years.”

Dickenson maintains that what people say about politicians and what they do are not the same thing. And that while many Australians mistrust politicians as a class, they tend to trust their local members. When people criticise politicians they are actively engaging in democracy, which is a positive act, she says.

“Because history shows us that trust can be made and remade, we shouldn’t despair about the state of our democracy. We — politicians, voters, and the media — should work together to rebuild it. Politicians should lead this process by modeling trustworthy behaviour.”

So no more policy shocks please Tony, we can’t take it. It’s Easter next month and we all need a break. Just step away from the microphone.

Anyone want to fly to Malaysia? Anyone? For the families of the crew and passengers of MH370, the plane’s disappearance is an unimaginable tragedy. But two weeks out from the disaster, another issue has arisen: who is travelling to Malaysia?

According to an article on the Quartz website, bookings to Malaysia from China have dropped by half, due to apprehension about flying on Malaysian Airlines and unhappiness with the way the government has handled the investigation.

China is the third-largest source of visitors for Malaysia, and tourism accounts for about 5.4% of the country’s GDP (and 16.4% of Malaysia’s total employment). According to Tourism Malaysia, 1.79 million Chinese visited the country last year — a nearly 15% annual increase on the year before. China Youth Travel Service has stopped collaborating with Malaysia Airlines on some package tours and promised to a full refund to any customers who wanted to cancel.

Malaysian Airlines has suspended Flight 318/319, which replaced MH 370/371, and has said that service between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing would be put on hold beginning May 2.

Such is the concern about what has happened to the plane that even the government is reluctant to promote Malaysia at the moment. Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz told Parliament last week his ministry had cancelled a “Visit Malaysia 2014” campaign, which intended to attract 28 million visitors.

For the sake of the Malaysian economy, as well as the families and friends of the people on MH370, the plane needs to be found, quickly.

Step up to the streets. One of Sydney’s newest galleries, M Contemporary, is staging an exhibition of street art, From the Streets, which is well worth a look. The exhibition features local and overseas artists from the 1980s right up to the present day, and includes names from Europe, South America and Australia. Works from local artists  like Will Coles, Beastman (Brad Eastman) and Adnate (Adam Last) incorporate elements from the fine art world and the art of the street.


Beastman is influenced by the beauty of nature’s repetitive patterns and organic lines, and his detailed geometric paintings (pictured above, Will Cotes’ art pictured below)) depict a potential futuristic world of new life, hope and survival.

Will Coles

Gallery director Michelle Paterson says that many of the well-known street artists were influenced by the great masters and in return, many of the world’s great contemporary artists took inspiration from what was happening on the streets. The exhibition runs until April 27.

Peter Fray

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