Contributed by Jim Hayes
No one should be surprised that a major research project has revealed that the level of trust with government in Australia is at the lowest point in almost 50 years. People are “bloody frustrated,” it says. Only 26 percent of respondents said they trusted the government.
The Australian National University’s latest election study, following July’s federal poll showed four out of 10 people were not satisfied with democracy. In this context, democracy refers to the existing political institutions and not to as a theoretical preference for government being accountable to the people and all having the right to vote.
About 19 percent do not feel close to any political party and partisanship to either the Liberal or Labor has declined over time, to 33 and 30 percent respectively. Meanwhile, the number of Australians aligning with the Greens and no party at all has been increasing.
One survey is not the last word on the matter. But this one does confirm what a view often expressed in traditional and social media that the political mood in Australia is changing. The survey give credence to the idea that there has been a sufficient change to consider it the first stirrings of a new political movement that may gain more traction in a short period of time.
Where it goes from here will depend on the performance of the major political parties, whether the economy improves or not and the extent to which Australians continue to feel that they are being badly done by.
Lead researcher Professor Ian McAllister observed that, “what it looks to me like is that you’re seeing the stirrings among the public that has happened in the United States with the election of Trump (and) Brexit in Britain.”
Prof McAllister believes a general dissatisfaction with career politicians who renege on commitments and giving high-profile postings to ex-MPs fosters distrust.
“We don’t have rampant corruption in the political system … but we’ve got a lot of this grey area,” he said.
Australia has what is called a compulsory voting system. In truth, this is a misnomer, because it is more accurately described as a system of compulsory registration and having to have your name crossed off the list during an election. You can do what you like with your ballot then. Nevertheless, most people believe they have to cast a vote and do so. The result gives a false picture of the nation’s political stance and disguises the extent to which dissatisfaction exists.
A clue to the accuracy of this observation is the fact that the last three prime ministers, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, could get the job with little public support. The electoral system still allowed them to lead a government. And it is this failure of the electoral system to be seen to reflect the will of the Australian population that is undermining the political institutions.
Given the short-term dividends, politicians tend to be mesmerised by them, and disconnect from and underestimate the level of dissatisfaction existing below the surface.