Trust in Government – Where is Australia now?

Public trust in government is an essential ingredient for a thriving democracy.

Public trust as a political resource is particularly important in times of coronavirus. Without it changes to public behaviour necessary to contain and ultimately prevent the spread of the infection are slower and more resource intensive. People need to trust government to support more government intervention that makes a difference. Museum of Australian Democracy (MOAD) 2020

Last year, research by MOAD found trust in government had increased during the pandemic as discussed in our blog post.

Now new research released in February reports that Australia is bucking a global trend in the decline in trust in major institutions, including government, business, non-government organisations and media.

The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer reports a worldwide epidemic of misinformation and widespread mistrust of societal institutions. And unlike the MOAD research, the Edelman Trust Barometer finds that the global pandemic has accelerated the erosion of trust. Notably, trust in government globally dropped by 8 points with the two largest economies, the United States and China, experiencing significant drops.

Australia stands in sharp contrast to the global picture. It experienced an increase in trust in government – up 17 points!

And even more significant, of the 27 countries studied, Australia comes out on top with the largest increase (+12) in public trust across the combined dimensions of government, business, NGOs and media. From a trust index score of 47 in 2020 to a score of 59 in 2021.

More about the Australian results

Trust in institutions

The findings show a trust surge in:

  • Business, up 11 points to 63
  • NGOs, up 8 points to 62
  • Government, up 17 points to 61
  • Media, up 12 pts to 51

Two different trust realities 

Looking at these scores for an ‘informed public’ compared to a ‘mass population’ the findings show two different realities in Australia:

  • Business – informed public up 7 points to 80; mass population up 8 pts to 58
  • NGOs – informed public up 5 pts to 79; mass population up 7 pts to 58
  • Government – informed public up 12 pts to 76; mass population up 17 pts to 58

Trust advantage: use it or lose it!

The report concludes:

  1. Business: embrace expanded mandate – CEOs must lead on issues from sustainability and systemic racism to upskilling. Act first, talk after.
  2. Lead with facts, act with empathy – Societal leaders must have the courage to provide straight talk, but also empathise and address people’s fears
  3. Provide trustworthy content – All institutions must provide truthful, unbiased, reliable information
  4. Don’t’ go it alone – Business, government, NGOs and others must find a common purpose and take collective action to solve societal problems.


For more information about trust from the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, see the Australia report and the Global report.

But wait there’s more!

The latest issue of the Australian Journal of Public Administration features more on the issue of trust.  See “Trust in government increased during the Covid-19 pandemic in Australia and New Zealand” here.

And if you’re still keen for more on the topic of trust and democracy, check out another post on the IPAA blog here.


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