Flat White

We don’t trust government? Good!

16 December 2019

5:00 AM

16 December 2019

5:00 AM

The latest Australian Election Survey has found trust in government is at an all-time low, and our pollies and pundits are spooked.   

But this is good news we should not trust pollies. In a liberal democracy, we should have a healthy dose of scepticism about them, because there are many good reasons not to trust them: poor policy, reactive policy, nanny-state policy… I could go on.  

Too often, governments introduce policies that are based on weak evidence or even despite a preponderance of evidence outlining their likely failure.    

For example, successive federal and state governments have forsaken evidence-based education policy in favour of faddish flops; the result being that our children have continuously gone backwards in their literacy and numeracy skills 

So it’s hardly surprising that — as government spending shows — the numeracy skills of pollies also need to improve.  

Federal and state projects are increasingly well beyond their budget, and often infrastructure that nobody did the numbers on to start with. The New South Wales government has spent billions of dollars digging up Sydney streets to build a light rail no one wanted that broke down on its first day of operation. The budget for the project continues to increase, and the disruption has caused several businesses to go broke. 

This was an unintended consequence the government did not consider, but they are notorious for over-reactive ‘solutions’ that don’t actually solve problems. 


In response to genuine concerns about terrorism, the government passed metadata retention laws despite the obvious threats to civil liberties. Within a short amount of time, councils started asking for access to the metadata of those who owed fines or littered. From catching terrorists to catching litterbugs, the slope is very slippery indeed    

Not content with simply being inept and profligate (with our money), pollies also constantly attempt to control every aspect of our lives.  

The government now wants to control the amount of cash we can use in a transaction. North Sydney council has banned vaping in outdoor areas, and governments are always trying to introduce a sugar tax, or veto anything people might find enjoyable.   

We must be evervigilant when it comes to government. Politicians must always feel the warm breath of the electorate on their neck.   

We pay lip-service to this notion including with the oft-quoted ‘we need to hold the government to account.’   

But inherent in that idea is that we should not trust government. If we do, their enthusiasm for controlling all aspects of our lives will become unbridled.    

But Australian politicians do not seem to grasp this concept. They are often incapable of accepting responsibility. Too often whining about a loss of trust in government becomes a finger-pointing exercise. 

When out delivering his latest ‘vision’ speech, Anthony Albanese blamed increasing ‘anger’, ‘misinformation’, and the latest favourite villain Facebook for the public’s perception of politics. 

Perhaps the electorate should complain louder so pollies can hear us over the rustling of Aldi shopping bags.    

But the lead researcher on the Australian Election Survey understands the importance of pollies taking responsibility. He says that Winning back the people’s trust is one of the most important tasks for our politicians 

Trust is for them to try and win. They should never stop trying and we should never stop withholding.  

When levels of trust in government are too high either pollies are operating perfectly, or we have stopped watching. The latter seems far more likely.  

Monica Wilkie is a policy analyst at the Centre for Independent Studies.

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