The PM not wanting to know too much about Christian Porter has again proved why we don’t trust our politicians.
This morning we’ve woken to find ourselves at a familiar pivot. Yesterday, the scandal-laden Christian Porter resigned from the frontbench over the scandal that saw him accept anonymous funds to pay for his legal defence. Before we get onto the next bit, the funds were required to pay for the lawyers he chose to fight the ABC over a defamation suit that he later dropped.
What makes this horse a particularly recognisable colour is the official reaction. Porter was resigning before Scott Morrison ruled whether he broke ministerial standards or not (spoiler alert, he did). Crucially, Morrison is not asking for the money back, nor does he want to know where it came from, Gallingly, Porter remains in government, and will continue representing his electorate and will contest the next election.
At the very top of the tree, the Prime Minister has no opinion. Echoing his infamous “I don’t hold a hose” maxim, Morrison has claimed that he is not Porter’s boss, the people of his electorate are. Therefore, not his problem, and job done.
Griffith University and Transparency International Australia have released a report that explains that while we trust our politicians to handle COVID, we find the opposite to be true regarding political corruption.
Per the report, we view corruption as either a “very big” or “quite big” problem, rising from 61% in 2018 to 66% in late 2020. The proportion of those who believe the federal government is handling corruption issues “very badly” has risen from 15% to 19.4% over the same time period.
This clashes with a noted increase of trust in our federal and state governments, with 17% of respondents trusting the federal government “a great deal” in 2020, compared with 6.7% in 2017.
Per The Guardian, “…the report, titled Australia’s National Integrity System: The Blueprint for Action, makes 10 recommendations for actions to improve the nation’s integrity system, including creating a commonwealth legislative plan on corruption, enforcing parliamentary standards through legislated codes of conduct, and establishing a system of real-time donations disclosure.
“It also recommends caps on campaign expenditure during elections and limits on political donations, as well as stronger public sector whistleblower protections, an overhaul of the lobbying system, and measures to ensure ‘fairer, more honest election campaigns’.
“The report says integrity bodies such as the auditor general should be given sustainable funding guarantees, including through four-year, direct budget allocations by parliament. The report recommends $100m per year in funding for a federal integrity commission, and corruption prevention and whistleblower protection.”
The Australian Election Study, done after every federal election, found that trust hit rock bottom in the summer of 2019. Only 59% are satisfied with how Australian democracy is working, the lowest level since the late 1970s – the figure was 56% in 1979 – and down 27 points since the record high of 86% in 2007.
Just one-quarter of Australians (25%) believe people in government can be trusted, the lowest level on record. More than half (56%) believe the government is run for “a few big interests”; only 12% think it is run for “all the people”.
The AES, which has been conducted since 1987, surveyed 2179 voters after the election. The full report can be found here. The results on trust confirm the message about voter disillusionment found in other studies.
Two-thirds of voters were focused on policy issues in casting their ballots, according to the study.
The most important issues identified by voters were the management of the economy (24%), health (22%) and environmental issues (21%). Voters preferred the Coalition on economic management, tax and immigration, and Labor on education, health and the environment.
The survey found Shorten was the least popular leader of a major party since 1990.
Just one quarter of Australians (25%) believe people in government is worthy of our trust, the lowest level on record. More than half (56%) believe government is run for “a few big interests”; only 12% think it is run for “all the people”.
In contrast, Scott Morrison was the most popular leader since Kevin Rudd in 2007, scoring 5.1 on a zero to 10 popularity scale (this compared with Shorten’s 4.0). But nearly three quarters (74%) of voters disapproved of the way the Liberals handled the 2018 leadership change.
The study shows the high voting volatility of the modern Australian electorate – in 2019 fewer than four in ten (39%) said they had always voted for the same party; in 1967, this figure was 72%.
In a speech on the Sunday after the election, Labor frontbencher Tanya Plibersek said trust was the “mother’s milk” of democracy and emphasised the role of politicians in the battle to restore it.
“Around the world, democratic societies are fracturing. Institutions and norms that once felt unchallengeable now appear fragile. Trust in politicians and political parties has never been lower.
“The public arena we enter every day, so quick to descend into insult and vitriol, compounds the feeling among ordinary citizens that getting involved in politics is pointless – that the public sphere is a nasty place, best avoided,” Plibersek told a Chifley Research Centre conference.
“Populists exploit this feeling, filling the vacuum with simplistic solutions to complex problems. When these inevitably don’t work, it only frustrates people more. It’s a vicious circle, reinforcing the conviction that democracy is broken and that genuine improvement is impossible.
“Everyone involved in Labor politics understands our urgent mission to restore confidence in our party and in our movement. But even more importantly, we need to dedicate ourselves to rebuilding trust in democracy itself.
“We need to reassure people that democracy is worth defending. Not just because it’s better than the alternatives, but because it’s the best vehicle for actively delivering a better quality of life for everyone.
“This will require effort and dedication from all Australians. But the greatest effort should rightfully come from those who have done the most damage – politicians and the political class”.
Michelle Grattan contributed to this report.