Australia has a trust deficit and it seems to be getting worse. Some early media stories signal that this election is not very welcome, because fewer see the political system as able to fix the problems we are facing.
Australians see issues like inequality as problematic and needing fixing. But so far there are few signs that either major party is really tackling the social issues that are creating inequities and divides.
The lack of trust is showing up in a range of polls. Recent research showed only 5% of Australians really trust their governments.
Another poll, published mid-last-year before the change of prime minister, put trust in political parties at the bottom of the list. A combined 16% of respondents affirmed “some” or “a lot” of their trust. Federal parliament itself does a little better with a “total trust” rating of 31%, which is a fine – if slightly despairing – distinction drawn between the institution and its inmates.
Given the basis of healthy democracy is the legitimacy of its processes, this is not good.
A new book, The Trust Deficit, by McKell Institute head Sam Crosby, identifies the role of trust in politics and the serious possible consequences of failing to tackle it.
Trust of others, particularly believing most people can be trusted, is a measure that has long been seen as crucial to measuring the capacities of societies to maintain good social relations. These in turn underpin all aspects of our lives – whether in communities, families and workplaces.
Trust of others increases good social and economic outcomes. Low trust creates higher needs for various forms of controls, whether administrative, personal or political. I tackled this problem in my 1995 ABC Boyer Lectures.
Trust of strangers and of the institutions of power, and a belief in the goodwill of both, creates the resilience to solve problems and deal with change. It is also essential in making societies more civil.
Yet despite both major parties explicitly and implicitly asking us to trust them to deliver what is needed, both fail to tackle many of the social causes of a lack of trust.
The following list of missing policies and promises has mainly been compiled from a range of responses to the major parties’ budget speeches and early election manifestos plus some extras. It illustrates clear areas of absent policies such as welfare payment adjustments and funding for essential services.
Other areas, like domestic violence and Indigenous issues, are included, as there is considerable rhetoric but funding shortfalls in core areas.