Report: Australian trust levels lowest globally as bushfire negativity bites

Latest Edelman Trust Barometer shows Australians lacking trust in all four institutions - government, business, media and NGO

Australia has the highest trust inequality in the world, with local consumers lacking faith in everything from government to business, media and NGOs.

In a sign of just how dissatisfied the Australian public is with current institutions, the latest annual Edelman Trust Barometer found local consumers exhibited the highest trust gap on record this year, with a 23-point gap between what was it identified as the ‘trusting’ informed public (68 points) and the more sceptical mass population (45 points).

The only institution rated as competent was business, which had a 56-point lead over government. Australians agreed businesses had an ability to get things done, such as generating value for owners (56 per cent), driving economic prosperity (46 per cent) and leading innovation (43 per cent). Yet they fall short when it comes to ethical behaviour.

The only perceived ethical institutions, meanwhile, were NGOs, which held a 21-point lead over business and media, and a 35-point lead over government. This was prompted by their efforts to work against challenges like human rights (40 per cent), protecting the environment (37 per cent) and addressing community level problems (37 per cent).

A key contributor to the low results was the recent Australian bushfire crisis. In a supplementary study conducted just after the main Trust Barometer research, Edelman found the gap between the informed public and mass population narrowed by 9 points to a 14-point gap – a dramatic regression which reflected the entire nation’s mood, Edelman stated.

Government was worst off, with 48 per cent of respondents seeing government to be corrupt, biased and lacking honesty overall.

“Australia’s informed public saw a severe breakdown of trust from the government in response to the bushfire catastrophes,” Edelman Australia CEO, Michelle Hutton, commented. “This should have been an opportunity to unite the nation and build security, but instead, the lack of empathy, authenticity and communications crushed trust across the country.”

For Hutton, the report makes it clear Australia’s institutions need to lift their game and proactively support societal and culture progression. Key reasons behind distrust of institutions are unfairness, dishonesty and a lack of vision for the future.

“The new decade marks an opportunity for our institutions to step up, take action and lead on key issues that will unite Australians and instill hope for the future,” she said.

Getting there means not only doing the right thing, it’s also about how you do it as an institution, Hutton said. Edelman noted ethical drivers are three times more important than competence, pointing to its recent Trust Management Study, which showed integrity, dependability and purpose drive 76 per cent of the trust capital of a company. This contrasted with competence (24 per cent).

What’s more, 89 per cent of global net responses showed respondents to be worried about the environment.

“Trust is undeniably linked to doing what is right. The battle for trust will be fought on the field of ethical behaviour,” Hutton said.

It’s also about leadership. For example, Edelman’s Trust Barometer found 78 per cent of Australians believe CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it.

Trust is disintegrating despite Australia entering its 28th year of consecutive annual economic growth. Only one-third of Australians believe they will be better off in five years’ time, and half believe capitalism as it exists today is doing more harm than good in the world. Eight in 10 worry about losing their jobs too, a fear driven by the gig economy, lack of skills and training, and to a lesser extent, automation.

Nearly six in 10 also agree the pace of technological change is too fast and 69 per cent are worried technology will make it impossible to know if what people are seeing or hearing is real.

It’s all a sign of the lack of confidence in the system. In fact, just over half (56 per cent) of Australian respondents felt the system is failing them. This is also playing out in media, where 74 per cent of respondents said they worried about false information and fake news being used as a weapon. As a result, 55 per cent believe the media they use is contaminated with untrustworthy information.

“The Australian dream is fragile, the general population are in a place of pessimism that is accompanied by a call for change,” Hutton added.

Surveys for the Barometer were conducted globally in October and November 2019, while the supplementary Australian study was conducted in February 2020.

The 2019 findings can be found here.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia.

 

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