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Media, unions and political parties seen as Australia’s most corrupt institutions

The media, trade unions and political parties are seen as Australia’s most corrupt institutions but fewer than 1% of people…

Fewer than 1% of people surveyed had experienced corruption directly in the last five years but perception of graft remains high.

The media, trade unions and political parties are seen as Australia’s most corrupt institutions but fewer than 1% of people have had recent direct experience of graft, a new poll shows.

The survey, titled Perceptions of corruption and ethical conduct and produced by the Australian National University’s Research School of Social Sciences, surveyed 2020 people aged 18 years and over by phone between August and September this year, with a response rate of 43%. The results were adjusted to represent the national population.

“Satisfaction with democracy in Australia remains high by international standards, although it is lower in 2012 than at any time since 1998,” the study said, with most concerns related to the quality of government.

“There is a widespread perception that corruption in Australia has increased, with 43% taking this view and 41% seeing corruption as having remained the same,” the report said.

The police and armed forces were seen as most trustworthy while the media, trade unions and political parties were seen as most corrupt.

“The media one is interesting because it confirms a finding across 25 EU countries earlier this year about the pillars of integrity in our community - the media again came down near the bottom,” said study author, Professor Adam Graycar.

“We’ve seen a number of media stories recently globally – the Murdoch scandal in the UK. There have been issues with talk back radio and the cash for comment allegations. This poll was done before the latest talk back controversy. But it’s a global phenomenon and the implications are important because of the very important role the media has in transparency,” he said.

While less than 1% of respondents said they or a relative had experienced corruption directly, “where corruption exists, it does have a serious and deleterious effect on government, on the delivery of our services and infrastructure,” said Prof Graycar.

While political parties were seen as corrupt, more than half of respondents see ‘almost none’ or ‘a few’ federal politicians as being corrupt and public scepticism of politicians’ motives has been stable since the 1990s, the study said.

Professor Mark Findlay, Deputy Director of the University of Sydney’s Institute of Criminology, said public perceptions on crime “often have very little to do either with personal experience or factual knowledge.”

“It is particularly interesting that police corruption is no longer viewed in the serious end (when, in fact, instances of such corruption, particularly in some states such as Victoria, see no sign of abating),” he said.

“This may be explained by things as tangential as new series of ‘Underbelly’ in this viewing season, or in more concrete variables such as a desire to believe in our institutions of public security in a political climate of border protection and prevailing concerns about local and national security.”

The loss of confidence in politicians and trade unions is troubling but consistent with a worldwide disillusionment with conventional institutions of representative governance,“ Prof Findlay said.

“What is more troubling is the belief in media corruption when, in other circumstances, the media is relied upon to expose public sector corruption. Maybe all this could be put down to the recent political scandals and degenerating level of political debate, and the biased and irresponsible role of individual media personalities in fuelling this state of affairs.”

Overall, respondents were mostly satisfied with the direction Australia is headed in, with the economy, immigration and employment topping respondents list of most important issues and concern for the environment on the wane.

Respondents were only asked about perceptions of corruption in public institutions, not private businesses or corporations.

Darren Palmer, Associate Professor in Criminology at Deakin University said the poll showed anti-corruption agencies needed to boost their profile.

“One of the most interesting and also somewhat surprising results is that almost half of the respondents indicate they would report suspected corruption to police. This flies in the face of the major restructure of mechanisms for dealing with corruption, whereby all jurisdictions have invested heavily in various anti-corruption agencies, including those dealing with allegations or suspicion of police corruption,” he said.

“More needs to be done by these agencies to enhance public awareness and access to their complaints processes.”

Additional reporting by Bella Counihan

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6 Comments sorted by

  1. ricphillips

    logged in via Twitter

    "The media, trade unions and political parties are seen as Australia’s most corrupt institutions but less than 1% of people have had recent direct experience of graft..."

    This makes perfect sense. Deceit, dissimulation, and all general forms of disrespect for the idea that others have a right to know the facts, make up their own minds and not have their beliefs or opinions manipulated, is not illegal in most circumstances.

    But while the law is generally concerned with financial gain and for…

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    1. Dianna Arthur
      Dianna Arthur is a Friend of The Conversation.


      In reply to ricphillips

      @ ricphillips

      I agree. It has been the inability to communicate to the public in a clear and unambiguous manner.

      Whether it be the media (particularly Murdoch press) presenting complete fabrications on issues such as climate change, the muck raking by both the LNP and Labor and the train wreck that are unions such as the HSU; "graft" appears to be the least on concerns regarding what is supposed to be a democracy.

      Misinformation is the game, pork-barrelling or the creation of some 'drama…

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    2. Arthur James Egleton Robey

      Industrial Electrician

      In reply to ricphillips

      I have to disagree.
      I see a lot of manipulation and distraction of the voting public around non-events as corruption.
      How much of substance is debated in Question Time in parliament? I see this schoolyard behaviour as either incompetence, arrogance of dissimilitude or a noxious combination of the three.
      And when the cosy relationship between tweedle dum and tweedle dee is threatened, it is viewed as an affront when it is the will of the voters that it should be so.
      As though the two tweedles don't drink at the same watering hole when safely out of the public eye.

  2. Robert Tony Brklje
    Robert Tony Brklje is a Friend of The Conversation.


    The perception at the moment is tainted because most people prefer a Kevin Rudd versus Malcolm Turnbull political environment.
    Both Abbott and Gillard come off us nasty and untrustworthy political appointees more skilled at political machination than garnering the support of the Australian public.
    This has done a lot to damage the perception of democracy in Australia. The first party to bale with the political schemers and go with the people's preferred candidate wins.

  3. Tony P Grant


    Another useless survey/poll!

    Are those taking or asking for "cash" with no receipt corrupt (tradies)?

    How many shops do you do into the the cash register "doesn't make a noise"?

    Those which carry "arms" most trustworthy...we are in big trouble...I have paid over many years at least (2) cash payments to a single p..... station in Fairfield NSW!

    We are a corrupt society, we want everything for nothing or a "special deal" and think then it is okay to take the "reduced price"...NO GST or so we think?

    Political parties that have the most to gain or the status quo...long live the COALITION!

  4. wilma western

    logged in via email

    I don't see much use in a survey that does not include corporations etc. What was the definition of "corruption" ? What about fraud , cover-ups etc ? Shonky investment advice? What was the point of the survey?? Timing certainly affects results.