Australia: Trust in Tumult

In 2018, trust in Australia continues to decline across all four key institutions: media, business, government and NGOs. This has resulted with Australia sitting just four percentage points above the world’s least trusting country, Russia. Trust in media has fallen to a new all-time-low of 31 percent, and 60 percent of Aussies are disengaged with news from major organizations.

Although these data paint a chilling picture of trust in Australia, we can hardly be surprised following a tumultuous year. The government has seen a plethora of negativity, with citizenship fiascos across major parties and leaked transcripts revealing a heated phone call in which Trump reportedly berated Prime Minister Turnbull. Business and media have been no stranger to controversy either, with money laundering and counter-terrorism scandals, and high-profile strikes against Australia’s biggest publishers over job cuts.

Fake news betraying Australia

While misinformation has been prevalent for thousands of years, digital society now spreads mass misinformation. We have largely been a voyeur to affairs in the U.S. and there has been little reflection on how fake news impacts Australia’s residents. However, we cannot escape global news cycles. Fake news is a major concern for Australians, who are increasingly distrusting and searching for who and what to trust.

What we’re seeing from the Trust Barometer in Australia is that the global swell of fake news could be leading Australians to look deeper at media sources. In the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, 60 percent were more likely to believe search engines compared to human editors. This year, traditional and online media have moved significantly upwards in trust compared to search and social.

The dawn of the activist CEO

In a world where media confusion is causing a churn of trust, voices of authority, including experts and CEOs, are regaining credibility. Across Australia, a new wave of proactive CEOs is standing up for causes.

High-profile examples included CEOs standing up against modern slavery, and for gender equality and equal pay. Further, more than 600 corporations backed the “yes” side in the Australian marriage equality vote, including Qantas, the Australian Stock Exchange, and ANZ. But these leaders are still a minority. With average credibility in CEOs still sitting at 39 percent, and more than six-in-10 believing CEOs should take the lead on change ahead of government, more need to stop hiding and stand up for societal causes.

Populism: my company, my clan

The 2016 general election saw a surge in support for independents and minor parties, thanks partly to charismatic individuals. What is distinctive about Australian populism is the emergence not of one key figure, but of a diverse field of parties and personalities. In tandem with this phenomenon, trust has decreased, and more than half of Australians think government is broken.

Businesses and employers are far more trusted. Corporations have been given licence to stand up for societal issues in their place, speaking for, and with, the people. The most trusted institution in Australia is “our employers” Businesses need to think carefully about how they can use workforce loyalty to advocate for beliefs.

Steven Spurr is CEO, Edelman Australia.

Michael Amadeus

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