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Is our federal government democracy's weakest link?

By Dino Cesta - posted Friday, 23 January 2015


Public institutions help build and protect the fabric of a democracy. But they can also contribute to democracy's downfall. Democracy's strength is dependent on the health of public institutions forming the foundational pillars of our society.

And human nature is the essential ingredient within society's institutions, which sweeten or sour the experience of democracy, influencing its trajectory to prosperity or unravel to its fatal demise!

How does the heart of Australia's public institutions – the Federal Government – fare in building and protecting democracy's fabric?

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Poll results published by the Australian National University's Social Research Centre (ANU-SRC) in "Changing Views of Governance" in August 2014, offers an insight into this question.

The ANU-SRC Poll reveals that when it comes to 'Confidence in Institutions', Australians have a reasonably healthy confidence in its Defence Forces (40%), Police Force (31%), and University System (26%). Australians' confidence in its Legal System, Public Service, and Banking System is much less resounding with each institution receiving 14% respectively.

Of much greater concern are citizens' anaemic level of confidence in the institutions of Churches, Unions, and Federal Parliament, receiving an abysmal 11%, 6%, and 6% respectively.

And on 'Attitudes to Democracy', the ANU-SRU Poll also measured the public's level of satisfaction and trust with Australia's democratic system. The Poll shows satisfaction with democracy peaking in 2007 at 86% with the election of the Rudd Labor Government.

However, since 2007, the Poll reveals satisfaction declining to 72%. This decline is attributable to the turbulent Rudd-Gillard leadership battles destabilising the governing of the nation, and the perception of the Gillard led Labor minority Government being ineffectual for governing and resulting in poor policy outcomes.

Following the 2013 Abbott Coalition victory, satisfaction levels remained stagnate. And I suspect post the Poll, this satisfaction level has likely declined further due to Australians' dissatisfaction with the Abbott Government's policy backflips and broken promises, particularly in regards to education, health, our national public broadcaster, and the unpopular and inequitable measures announced in its first federal budget. And the Government is not even half way through its first term!

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When it comes to the questions of citizens influencing political outcomes through voting, and that whoever is in Government can make a difference in people's and community's lives, the ANU-SRU results again reflect eroding confidence in our political system. Compared to 70% in 1996, in 2014 only 56% believe their vote made a difference. And a dismal 43% believe it made a difference on who is in power compared to 2007 where the figure stood at 68%.

Describing the low standing of Australia's politicians, corruption crusader Tony Fitzgerald QC wrote a piece titled 'The Body Politic is Rotten' in The Australian in 2012, noting that politicians have a low opinion of each other, which "... includes… lying, cheating, deceiving, rorting, bullying, rumour-mongering, back-stabbing, slander, leaking, dog whistling, nepotism and corruption."

Is it any wonder Australians continue to have a low regard of their political masters!

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About the Author

Dino Cesta is a freelance communicator of thoughts, opinions and ideas on politics, economic and social issues and public policy. Cofounder of the non-profit organisation Hand in Hand Arthouse, and the Newcastle Italian Film Festival, Dino graduated with a Bachelor of Economics and Master of Politics and Public Policy. You can follow Dino on View from the Obelisk or Twitter on @dinoc888

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