Fewer Australians think government should play a role in their lives beyond providing health care, protecting borders and enforcing strict environmental laws on industry.
Yet confidence in the Federal Government is up since last year’s election, coming off a previous record low prior to the election, and confidence in the public service is even higher.
New research from the Australian National University shows a growing number of Australians believe government should butt out of their lives, even to the point of providing fewer essential services.
According to the study, government functions with the lowest levels of support include providing a decent standard of living for the unemployed, providing industry assistance, and providing a job for everyone who wants one.
The study also found that more Australians believe government’s most important role is to provide health care for the sick, control who enters Australia’s borders, and ensure industry reduces its environmental impact.
The survey analysed the views of more than 3300 adults in January 2023 as part of the COVID-19 Impact Monitoring Survey, which has been tracking the pandemic’s effect in Australia since April 2020.
Of the survey’s participants, 51.2 per cent had quite a lot or a great deal of confidence in the Federal Government.
That has increased from 35.6 per cent in April last year (it jumped to 52.9 per cent in August).
Confidence in the public service has risen from 48.7 per cent in January 2020, to 57 per cent now.
The highest level of confidence in public services were for the health system, defence, police and universities.
The study’s co-author Nicholas Biddle said Australians’ high level of satisfaction with and trust in government was having an effect on attitudes to the Government’s role.
“Australians are more confident in the Federal Government than they have been since the height of the ‘rally-around-the-flag’ period in late 2020 when the federal and state/territory governments were actively managing the COVID-19 pandemic,” Professor Biddle said.
“Over a slightly longer term, almost twice as many Australians are confident in their government now compared to January 2020, when Australia was in the grip of the Black Summer bushfires.
“Perhaps because of this satisfaction, Australians do not appear to be demanding a much greater role for government.
“Indeed, apart from support for the unemployed, in many areas there are fewer Australians that think governments should have a role to play.”
Professor Biddle noted that people largely view the public service as being apolitical and able to deliver services at arm’s length from the political process.
But the survey also shows Australians’ attention has turned sharply to the economy, with 44.5 per cent saying economic issues were the most important.
Australians are more financially stressed than at any other time during or just prior to the pandemic, with almost one in three people, 27.9 per cent finding it difficult to get by on their current income.
“Financial stress is one of the issues most Australians are struggling with,” Professor Biddle said.
“Given almost exactly half, 49.9 per cent, of Australians think that rising prices were a very big problem according to the survey, it is an issue that will undoubtedly be front of mind for our political leaders.”