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Thursday, June 19, 2014

The trust thing-where to from here?

The absence of trust and confidence in politicians, government and institutions is striking.

 The Readers Digest Survey of who is held in high regard for integrity and substance sees politicians ranked 49 of 50 professions, with no politician ranked higher than 68 in a list of 100 public figures. The Prime Minister is at 79. Roughly confirming the Morgan Poll.
in April where 12% of Australians rated Federal (and state) parliamentarians highly for ethics and honesty beating out three of 50 30 professions. The trend line before the Budget according to the Essential Report was that trust in political leadership dropped 13 points since February.

Then there's the Lowy Poll 2014:
"... 60% of Australian adults, and just 42% of 18-29 year-olds say ‘democracy is preferable to any other kind of government’. Only a small majority of the population (53%) choose ‘a good democracy’ over a ‘strong economy’. For those who do not see democracy as the preferable form of government, the strongest reasons are that ‘democracy is not working because there is no real difference between the policies of the major parties’ (45% citing this as a major reason) and ‘democracy only serves the interests of a few and not the majority of society’ (42%)."
Then Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott was on the money in September 2013
when he identified the trust deficit as the biggest deficit facing the nation. But things have got worse not better.

Lack of trust translates to a major governance problem. Government in a democracy occupies a position based on the notion of a public trust. As well lack of trust complicates the making of difficult decisions and government's capacity to see them through.

It is not a unique problem to Australia.

Books are being written about why it is so but among many contributing causes are lack of honesty and consistency, overuse of spin, excessive secrecy, failure to genuinely consult and test ideas, and pre-occupation with short termism and political advantage.

The Oxford Martin Commission report Now for the Long Term explores some of these issues. 

Chair Pascal Lamy visited Australia two weeks ago. Canberra was on his itinerary and he met at least one minister, Andrew Robb, Treasury Secretary Parkinson and officials involved in the G 20 process.

Let's hope Lamy was able to refer them to the Agenda for the Long Term section of the report, page 59 and the recommendations for Innovative, Open and Reinvigorated Institutions that include:
Optimise new forms of political participation, transparency and accountability, whilst amplifying the voices of global citizens. The Commission recommends renewed commitment to transparent government and deeper political engagement...
The report describes the Open Government Partnership as "a particularly welcome development" bringing together government, civil society and private enterprise in member countries to address governance and means to improve transparency, accountability and public participation with independent international oversight of their efforts. 

It's such a good model
The Commission calls for the OGP platform to be adopted by other institutions and governments, and for the platform’s work to be expanded to strengthen coordination between citizens across countries.
Readers will know of Australia's dithering over whether to join the OGP now running without resolution for close to three years. When I checked with the Office of the Minister for Finance this week on the current position before heading off to the C20 Summit in Melbourne:
the government has made no decision to join or withdraw the Labor government's May 2013 notice of intention to join.
Not of its own a decision likely to reverse the trust decline, but the penny should drop sometime that a journey starts with a step in the right direction.

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