MOAD Democracy: are you in?
Director of the Museum of Australian Democracy Daryl Karp with Professor Mark Evans of the University of Canberra’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis. Photo: Elesa Kurtz.
Sally Pryor, Trust is in short supply when it comes to our democracy, The Canberra Times, 11 August 2018
First, it was the nation builders and baby boomers who were the most disgruntled when it came to the Australian political system.
But, just two years after a survey from the University of Canberra Institute for Governance and Public Analysis found that older Australians had the deepest distrust of government, a new survey has found that Generation X and women are the most disenfranchised.
The institute has partnered with the Museum of Australian Democracy to investigate the relationship between trust and our political system and democracy in Australia.
Institute head Mark Evans said women had a much higher level of dissatisfaction with current politics, and it wasn’t just down to the fact that the discussions took place at the same time as the Sarah Hansen-Young/David Leyonhjelm drama was playing out on the national stage.
“It’s difficult to establish causation between those things, but actually it’s part of the broader public discourse,” he said.
“I think it’s right to say that [the Me Too movement] is having an impact, there’s no doubt about that. Most of the survey work would have been done at the same time as all the stuff that came out around David Leyonhjelm, so you put all this noise together and it will have an influence.”
Equally significant was the level of disenchantment among Gen-Xers, many of whom are now in positions of power and relative comfort.
“In terms of the age group you’re talking about, it’s the group that should feel most empowered, in many ways, because the group would be people who are in key managerial positions and leadership positions in our society,” he said.
“So you would expect them to be a little bit more attached to the system.”
But the most recent survey, completed in the last two weeks, there was an interesting shift in attitudes.
“We saw a shift from what we called an allegiant political culture – the cultural political deference – to what we called a divergent political culture – people starting to question political order.”
The study feeds into a new exhibition opening at MOAD this week, featuring objects that define and question our democratic systems.
These include a rifle once owned by former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer, and Greens leader Richard di Natale’s rainbow sneakers, as well as personal stories from campaigners and leaders.
Professor Evans said the exhibition was designed to “provide a robust evidence base for how Australians imagine their democracy, and how they’re thinking about their democracy at the moment.
“To be frank, the key message of the exhibition really is that within our democracy, there’s a very delicate balance between trust and distrust,” he said.
“In a sense, a liberal democracy is designed around distrust, which is why we have these checks and balances, separation of powers, all of these things. The issue is that there’s kind of an equilibrium there. So the big question is when does the tipping point occur, which means that the political system itself has to change and adapt to the new reality that’s confronting it?”
He said the findings of the institute’s latest survey, which involved a representative sample of 1244 Australians and 10 focus groups, were sobering.
“The evidence seems to be suggesting that we’re actually moving into that space now, where for example political parties if they’re to survive need to adapt, they need to engage more effectively with local citizens, and this is very, very strong in the data that we have,” he said.
“The nature of contemporary politics as it’s being played out on the hill needs to change, because most Australians really think that type of politics is completely disconnected from their everyday lives. They’re not interested in politics as bloodsport. They’re interested in politics as problem-solving. And they think politicians don’t care about their needs and aspirations.”
Democracy. Are you in? opens at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House on August 9.