Persistent booing of Australian political leaders by the crowd at major sporting fixtures is commonplace. Is this the usual humourous and largely harmless streak of Australian larrikinism? Or does it herald a more serious widespread disengagement and disinterest in all things political?
It is evident that many Australians are fed up with the relentless negativity and self-absorption of politics and politicians. Most importantly, they fail to see themselves and their concerns reflected in today’s political debates and decision-making.
But it is premature to pronounce the decline of Australian democracy. Paradoxically, it has taken a global pandemic to boost Australians’ trust in government and in business, non-government organisations and other major institutions.
The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer’s report of surveys of 28 countries in October and November 2020 shows that, in sharp contrast to global trends, Australia experienced a significant increase in trust in governments from the previous year. Australia also topped the list of countries with the largest jump in overall trust levels across government, business, non-government organisations and media combined.
Despite this strong trust result, Australia had the highest gap in trust between its more-trusting ‘informed public’—wealthier, more educated people who consume more news — and the mass population.
It seems Australia has two different experiences of reality. This is a warning sign.
The rise in trust overall is a verdict on how Australian institutions have handled the pandemic, protecting lives and livelihoods with responses that have generally been characterized by co-operation, competence and compassion. At least at the time of the Edelman survey.
This trust advantage is fragile, it’s a case of use it or lose it, according to Edelman and commentators.
The more detailed findings of the report signal some significant insights.
It is accepted that business leaders should act to help solve big societal challenges, like sustainability, unemployment, and disruptions to patterns of work and essential skills.
There seems to be an emerging shift in priorities to ‘my family and their needs’ and a greater reliance on ‘people in my local community’ for information and reassurance.
Further, a call for straight talk, empathy and co-operative action to inform and address problems is an expressed preference.
With this backdrop, a new movement spearheading people-led change deserves a closer look. The Centre for Civic Innovation is the brainchild of business leader and community engagement specialist, Amelia Loye.
The Centre for Civic Innovation describes its purpose as empowering everyday people to make a difference in their communities. Recognising that people have latent knowledge and the power to act to improve the social and economic prospects of their communities, the Centre for Civic Innovation seeks to make opportunities for change more accessible and realistic.
They do not rely on government or business for answers, nor do they stop at just eliciting bright ideas from local people. The Centre for Civic Innovation guides people to develop and road test their prescriptions for change and put them into action. An early pilot with Liverpool City Council in Sydney, Australia has been a successful proof of concept.
There are lessons to be learned if Australia is to avoid a reversal of its current trust advantage.
Political decision-makers may be best served by paying more attention to the mass population shown to be both less trusting and less engaged, than to their traditional political base, whose priorities are in the minority.
There is a case for systematic and deliberate action to engage ordinary Australians in shaping and securing what they see as vital improvements in their lives and in the opportunities open to themselves, their families and communities.
This is the promise of people-led change.
Trust Barometer 2021 Australia, Edelman, 19th February 2021, www.edelman.com.au/trust-barometer-2021-australia
David Donaldson, The pandemic has boosted Australians’ trust in government—and made us scared to quit, The Mandarin, 19th February 2021.
Trust in Government—Where is Australia Now? , 18th March 2021, https://qld.ipaa.org.au/2021/03/trust-in-government-where-is-australia-now/
Centre for Civic Innovation, see www.centrecivicinnovation.org
Narelle Kennedy acts as an adviser to the Centre for Civic Innovation.