Do you trust the government?

Genevieve Jacobs 9 August 2018 11

Midnight Oil’s Redneck Wonderland megaphone from 1998, from the Museum of Australian Democracy Collection. Photo: Supplied.

If you’ve lost faith in our leadership, no matter who you voted for, you’re not alone. Political trust is in worryingly short supply, according to collaborative research from the University of Canberra and the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House.

This week, MoAD launches their Democracy – Are You In? exhibition. Director Daryl Karp says it’s a call to action. “I think that democracy around the world is under serious threat. This is our contribution. It’s about giving people a voice that does count, one that says ‘Be involved. Don’t step away.”

The starting point was evidence that we’re increasingly disconnected from government. The Edelman Trust Barometer, which measures these things worldwide, says that only 35% of Australians have faith in our government. It’s all the more concerning because we’re a stable democracy with a proud tradition of democratic freedom and consistent economic growth.

Professor Mark Evans who heads the Institute of Governance and Policy Analysis at the University of Canberra says “Our survey data shows a stark decline since the John Howard era. We’ve had some peculiar high profile events that did not play out well in the electorate with the dismissal of several prime ministers.

“When you ask about the characteristics of an ideal politician, the key dimensions are integrity, local connection, and delivery. Trust is earned by creating solid benefits for the community. Nationally, the view is that prime ministers haven’t been effective in getting big-ticket items up, there’s a lot of inconsistency between the rhetoric and what’s being delivered.

“There’s a dominant assumption among politicians that you cannot have complex conversations with the public, but citizens say that’s not true. They expect to have grown up conversations, and they cannot understand why politicians are still engaging in adversarial politics on major issues.”

But the exhibition’s stories about gun law reform, same-sex marriage and the 1967 indigenous referendum also make the point that change requires robust democratic processes. That means citizens must participate.

Visitor engagement from the exhibition will be reported to Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. The exhibition will also be updated using feedback about what Australians want from our politicians.

There’s a huge range of objects illustrating our democratic process. They include an orange beanie from Cathy McGowan’s Indi campaign, badges and t-shirts about everything from anti-communism to saving the Franklin, the Midnight Oil megaphone from 90’s concerts and former Deputy PM Tim Fischer’s .303 rifle.

When PM John Howard responded to the Port Arthur massacre with the 1996 Firearms Act, it was a tough sell to Fischer’s rural constituency. Fischer says of his rifle, now donated to MoAD, “It’s a product of Australia, passed down from my father but when I sold the farm at Boree Creek, I thought, well, it has another role to play. Even a deputy PM can give up his gun.”

“I doubt Australia would have resolved the guns issue so well, had social media existed in 1996 and ’97. What’s changed now is that even a sensible proposal immediately goes to the extremes before any consideration of its merits. There’s a whole new template that breaks the bond between elected leaders and representatives. That’s made it a different ball game.”

Marriage equality also engendered intense debate. Greens leader Senator Richard di Natale, whose rainbow striped sneakers are also at MoAD, says that “As much as I rejected the plebiscite process, it was a sign of the community coming together and a very strong campaign to shift public opinion.”

Pointing to declining support for major parties, he says “It’s interesting that people are voting for disruptors to the status quo. There’s a thirst for something different from a political system totally captured by other interests. The challenge is to provide genuine, enduring alternatives, for which people are searching. We can all do that by continuing to build a movement for change.”

Democracy: Are You In? opens from August 9 at MoAD.

So what about you: do you trust our democracy?

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11 Responses to Do you trust the government?
Capital Retro Capital Retro 9:50 am 13 Aug 18

“Trust is a good thing but control is even better”. – Lenin

Capital Retro Capital Retro 7:39 am 13 Aug 18

“Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” — Thomas Jefferson

Mike of Canberra Mike of Canberra 4:16 pm 10 Aug 18

Wrong Gooterz, wrong Ken Owers and wrong Matt Donnelly. First, Gooterz, I can’t see how the SSM plebiscite was a failure given an 80% participation rate and a very clear result. This result, by the way, has now calmed down the whole debate over SSM and not left opponents (including me) with much to say against the whole notion. After all, the people have spoken!

Matt, if you’re not interested in the outcome of an election, to the point that you’d prefer not to vote for anyone on the ballot paper, but just vote informal or “NOTA”, then you’re in no position to carp about the impact on you of the policies and decisions of the re-elected government. Locally, if you’re fed up with the ACT Government, give the other side a try. Given they’ve not been in for close to 18 years, it’s hard to see how you can foresee what they’d do. In fact, can you tell me one thing they’d do that would be worse than what the current lot are doing?

Ken, your first instinct was correct. If you object to the current lot but insist on voting informal or voting for unelectable candidates and not distributing your preferences in a way that would achieve change, then effectively you are not only failing to vote against the government but in fact are helping it to be returned. This is very pertinent to ACT and national politics.

Bottom line: in terms of ACT politics, all of us need to have a good hard think about the sort of Canberra we’d like to see into the future. If you approve of how things are going, vote for the current Territory government. If you are fed up with the current lot, vote for change. This also applies federally.

    I am a Rabbit™ I am a Rabbit™ 12:42 pm 12 Aug 18

    It’s a tad bit hypocritical to be attacking people over trying to “opt out” of voting, when you’re just doing the dummy vote yourself. Voting for the opposition for the sake of change alone is absurd, and even more damaging than not voting at all. You should instead look at the policies of each individual party, and decide upon who receives your vote with that in mind.

    Mike of Canberra Mike of Canberra 2:38 pm 13 Aug 18

    Rabbit, far from being a “dummy” vote, my approach is based on solid reasoning. This is that when you leave governments in for too long, they become tired and hubristic. Remember, in its early years, this was quite a good government and certainly had my vote. But by the time it came to seeking re-election a third time, I’d had enough and changed my vote. Unfortunately, not enough Canberrans did the same. Now, we have a government that obviously feels it can’t be beaten and thus takes Canberrans for granted. Because we also only vote one way federally, national governments of both persuasions take little notice of us, Labor believing with reason that we’ll always return Labor MPs and the Coalition believing it has little to lose by ignoring Canberrans. If your response to all of that is to waste your vote or to vote for meaningless minor parties while preferencing the current ACT government, then you’re contributing to the problems I have outlined. You may recall I asked one of the other commenters whether they believed that the other side in the ACT could possibly be worse than the current administration. My answer to that is “unlikely”. If, however, you believe the other side will always be worse than the current lot, then you are likely to have an ideological predisposition against voting for change. While that’s your right, it does nothing to solve the problems currently causing discontent amongst Canberrans.

bj_ACT bj_ACT 4:05 pm 10 Aug 18

I’ve lost all faith and trust in this ACT Government. I even remained a rusted on Labor voter when they closed my sons school in Kambah and then closed another 2 Primary schools and 2 other pre schools in the same suburb.

I started to have more doubts about ACT Labor and their claims when the new Superschool didn’t live up to expectations and the promises for improved educational performance didn’t eventuate. In fact education performances at the school got worse year on year.

I finally gave up on Andrew Barr after moving to a better area and education opportunities in Woden and then seeing my Rates go through the roof but all the extra funds he raised being sent to his own backyard in the inner North.

In short Andrew Barr is big on good sounding promises, but short on delivering them when they aren’t in his own electorate.

shellcase shellcase 2:44 pm 10 Aug 18

Which government? Current LNP at the Federal level? Yes, sooner than Federal Labor.
Current ACT Labor? No way. Would like to see the ACT Lib Opposition get a chance to prove they are trustworthy.

gooterz gooterz 10:41 am 10 Aug 18

Australia is a Constitutional monarchy not a democracy.

Closest thing we have is Representative Democracy.
We the electors pick someone to represent us on all matters of public life, with re-election every 4 years.
Representative Democracy was flavour of the month about 2500 years ago, yet times are changing faster than ever.
Facebook amassed 50 million users within 2 years. They added a billion people in the last 4 years.

We’re at the point we’re technologically we could elect new members every week.

All the rainbow debate did was show that we’re willing to spend millions of the government trying to influence the opinion of the public. The postal survey showed that our Constitutional monarchy sic ‘democracy’ doesn’t really work.

Ken Owers Ken Owers 8:19 am 10 Aug 18

Unfortunately no, I truely believe that in the early years politicians intentions are for the good of their electorates however overtime they become distant and separated from the opinions of the people who elected them. The main reason is they have to abide what the Party line is or they get the old heave ho and risk losing their high paying jobs and all the perks that go with it. I just wish the legislation would change around cmpulsory voting. I absolutely fume when I am forced to vote when there isn't one politiician who is worth my time and effort to tick a paper.

    Matt Donnelly Matt Donnelly 11:36 am 10 Aug 18

    “So what’s the difference between None of the Above (NOTA) and an informal vote? Voting NOTA is a choice. It’s not a mistake or a prank or “throwing your vote away”. It’s the ultimate democratic expression of how effective political campaigns are at truly engaging a voter to express their will. A NOTA vote is a purposeful protest. It cannot be washed away as a historical footnote.”

    Ken Owers Ken Owers 12:30 pm 10 Aug 18

    Matt Donnelly Interesting, I haven't gone down that road as I was under the impression that any votes not nominating a person just went to the government in power. Now I am aware of this would likely go down this path. Cheers

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