In the April edition of this newsletter I wrote about the importance of shared sacrifice between the public and private sectors, and that many in the public sector and quasi-public institutions were largely shielded from the downside impacts of the COVID-19 lockdown measures while private sector workers and businesses – especially small businesses – were suffering immensely. This is exactly what Kurt and Cian’s analysis found.
The day after you received my newsletter my report Shared Sacrifice in the Two Australias was released which included polling we commissioned from the polling and data firm Dynata. The poll of 1,012 Australians aged 16 and above was undertaken between 24-26 April and posed the statement “Politicians and senior public servants on salaries of $150,000 should have their pay reduced by 20%”.
The response in support of the statement was overwhelming and widespread, with some 74 per cent of respondents agreeing and just 10 per cent disagreeing with the statement. The remainder neither agreed nor disagreed.
Our research was covered in The Australian.
The point is not that public servants should be needlessly punished. But that it is unseemly for a small group of elites to be seen to be – or to be, in practice – prospering at a time of great economic and social upheaval which is devastating the lives of millions of mainstream Australians.
As I wrote in the report:
“A failure of the elites to empathise with and share in the struggles of the mainstream of the population could pose an existential threat to Australia’s egalitarian liberal democracy.
Public trust in the major institutions of our society has been declining for a number of years and is now at crisis lows.”
In my report I referenced some very interesting analysis undertaken by the communications firm Edelman, which each year publishes its Global Trust Barometer. The Barometer surveys the attitudes of respondents in 28 nations about the trust they have in major institutions, such as government, media, non-government organisations, and businesses.
While I am sceptical of much of the polling and survey data that comes from global communication and public relations firms, the findings in this survey align with both common sense and anecdotal evidence based on the observations that I believe many Australians share.
The most important metric in the survey is the “trust gap” which measures the level of trust in major national institutions amongst the elites (called the “informed public”) and the mainstream (called “mass population”).
In the 2020 edition of the survey, Australia had the largest trust gap out of all 28 nations surveyed, meaning the dichotomy between the elites and the mainstream is more pronounced in Australia than in any other of the surveyed nations.
The average level of trust amongst the informed public in government, NGOs, media, and business was 68 per cent – above the global average of 65 per cent. Conversely, trust amongst the “mass population” in those same institutions was just 45 per cent, implying a trust gap of 23 per cent, which is well above the global average gap of 14 per cent.
This is a serious challenge to the future of our nation and its major institutions. These results suggest that the status quo is working for the elites but not the mainstream of the country. I would go further in suggesting that this trust gap will grow over the coming months as many of the more than a million Australians who have lost their job over the last two months never return to work, while those in the public service, quasi-public institutions, and the academia, remain as wealthy and influential as ever before.