More than two-thirds of Australians trust the Australian Federal Police, but fewer than half trust the AFP to handle their personal data safely, today’s Essential Report finds.

A whopping 67% of Australians having “some” or “a lot” of trust in the AFP, making it the second-most trusted institution in Australia (the AFP was just pipped by state police, at 68%). That is considerably more people than trust the ABC (which is the most trusted media organisation, at 55%), local government (just 40%), state or federal parliaments (both at 32%) or business groups and religious organisations (both 30%). In news that may cheer the Labor Party, trade unions have earned the trust of 27% of the electorate, according to Essential, while political parties overall languish at 19% trust.

But only 49% of Australians trust security agencies such as the AFP and ASIO to store their personal data. Under new data retention laws, telcos must retain Australians’ phone and internet records for two years, and security agencies can access them at will without a warrant. Respondents were split on whether security agencies should be able to store their data, with 46% saying they had “little” or “no” trust in such agencies to retain their data. It was worse for telcos themselves, with only 31% of Australians saying they could be trusted with personal data.

Q. Under new national security laws phone and internet records of all Australians will be held for two years.
How much trust do you have in the following organisations to store your personal data safely and in a way that would prevent abuse?

Respondents were also evenly split as to whether mandatory data retention was “necessary to protect society from terrorists or criminal actors” or the laws were “a dangerous direction for society”. According to Essential, 42% of Australians agreed with the statement “Governments having access to personal telephone and internet information is necessary to protect society from terrorist or criminal actions”. Conversely, 41% agreed with the statement “Governments are increasingly using the argument about terrorism to collect and store personal data and information, and this is a dangerous direction for society”.

Unsurprisingly, Coalition voters were much more likely to say the new scheme was important for preventing terrorism, with 57% agreeing with the first statement, while 29% agreed with the second. Greens voters were split the other way, with 24% supporting the first statement and 63% supporting the second. Federal Labor voted for the data retention laws, but 50% of Labor voters said the laws represented “a dangerous direction for society”, with just 37% saying they were necessary.

Despite the split on data retention, most Australians approve of the way Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is handling the threat of terrorism, with 56% of overall voters approving, compared to to 17% disapproving. Approval was highest among Coalition voters, who approved 73%-11%. Turnbull has even won the hearts of the Greens, with almost half (47%) supporting the way he is handling the threat of terrorism, compared to 22% who disapprove. Fully half (50%) of Labor voters approve of Turnbull’s handling of the terror threat, with 21% disapproving. All of those numbers are far better than those Tony Abbott achieved in March of this year, when 46% of voters approved of the way he was handling the threat of terrorism, as against 33% who disapproved.

On voting intention, 44% say they would vote Coalition if the election were held today, compared to 36% who say they would vote Labor. That leaves a two-party preferred vote of 51%-49% in the Coalition’s favour. None of these responses have changed since last week.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey