Australians’ trust in government has continued to slide, driven by growing concerns about corruption at the federal level, according to a special Global Corruption Barometer survey conducted by Griffith University and Transparency International Australia.
The results also show strong support for creation of a new federal anti-corruption body, with two-thirds (67%) supporting the idea, especially in Victoria, NSW and South Australia – with those ‘strongly supporting’ the idea outstripping those who strongly oppose it by 4 to 1.
Combined with Griffith University’s Australian Constitutional Values Survey, the in-person telephone poll of 2,218 adults, conducted in May-June, provides the first measure since 2012 of the growing impact of corruption on citizens’ trust and confidence in government. The survey shows:
- Trust & confidence in all levels of government fell in the last year, to 46% for federal and state levels and 51% for local government nationally
- Continued low levels of experienced bribery (less than 2%), but high concerns about officials or politicians using their position to benefit themselves or family (62%) or favouring businesses and individuals in return for political donations or support (56%)
- A 9 point increase since 2016 in perceptions that federal members of parliament are corrupt (85% at least ‘some’ corrupt, 18% ‘most/all’ corrupt) – placing them on par with state parliamentarians and worse than local officials.
Project leader Professor A J Brown, of Griffith University’s Centre for Governance & Public Policy, said the results provide both a warning and an opportunity for Australian governments.
“We now see a stronger correlation between trust and action against corruption.”
“Well over a third of citizens’ total trust and confidence is now explained by whether they feel the government is doing a ‘good job in fighting corruption’ (37% at the federal level, 25% state).
“Continued slippage in the perceived integrity of federal officials clearly has a disproportionate effect on overall trust and confidence, nationwide.”
Federal anti-corruption agency support
The survey is the first to test support for a federal anti-corruption body by also presenting respondents with a counter proposition – but still records strong support across the community, especially among respondents who have ever worked for the federal government itself.
Two-thirds of Australians (67%) support the idea, with most of these (43%) expressing strong support, against only 10% expressing strong opposition.
Respondents were also told: “Other people say a new agency isn’t needed because existing bodies like the Australian Federal Police are already adequate to deal with federal corruption”, before being asked to express a view.
Support is slightly higher among women (70%) than men (65%), and among citizens of Victoria (73%), NSW (69%) and South Australia (68%), and lower among those over the age of 65 (60%) but otherwise spread broadly across the community including all education levels.
Among the 1,011 respondents who had worked in government, the 245 respondents who had ever worked in the federal government recorded the highest level of strong support for a new federal agency – 54% against the national average of 42%.
The same group were marginally less likely than other respondents to rate corruption in government as a big or very big problem (50% against the national average of 57%), but were:
- the least likely to say that the “task of fighting corruption” was currently being handled well at the federal level (35% against the national average of 48%)
- more likely than other respondents to have witnessed or suspected an official or politician of making a decision in favour of a business or individual who gave them political donations or support in the last 12 months (68% against national average of 56%)
Undue influence a major concern
Serena Lillywhite, CEO of Transparency International Australia, said the results “firmly show that the risk of undue influence and decisions that benefit business and powerful individuals is real, and driving increasing corruption concerns”.
“For 56% of respondents – equating to over 10.2 million Australians – to say they had personally witnessed or suspected favouritism by a politician or official in exchange for donations or support is nothing less than shocking.”
“This snapshot also shows the case for a strong, comprehensive federal anti-corruption agency is well understood by those within government, not just based on the fears of outsiders.”
“Improved transparency and strengthened oversight of government decision making, including the regulation of lobbyists, is also long overdue,” Ms Lillywhite concluded.