Australia’s bushfire season has worsened the nation’s trust crisis, well, at least among the informed public. The mass population remains as skeptical and distrusting of our institutions as they were before the horror fire season, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. 

The local edition of the 2020 report, released today shows Australian attitudes are largely in-line with the global mood: distrusting, skeptical of capitalism and highly critical of major institutions that aren’t viewed as both competent and ethical. 

Edelman surveys two cohorts, the informed public who are wealthier, more educated, and frequent consumers of news, and the mass population. In Australia the number crunchers conducted the survey twice. 

The Edelman Trust Barometer in field in October and November 2019, revealed in Australia the trust gap between the two groups was the largest in the world. However, the gap has narrowed following Australia’s devastating bushfire season. 

Findings from a Supplementary Trust Barometer study, conducted in February 2020, measured a dramatic decline in Australia’s Trust Index, from an all-time high of 68-points in the informed public to 59-points, a 9-point blow in just three months. In the mass population, trust was consistently low at just 45-points. 


Source: Edelman Trust Barometer, Australia: 2020

“Australia’s informed public saw a severe breakdown of trust from the government in response to the recent bushfire catastrophes. 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,” said Michelle Hutton, Edelman Australia CEO. 

Hutton said environmental issues are now at the top of Australians’ concerns, with 89 per cent of the general population citing the bushfires, droughts, water shortage and global warming among their top concerns. 

“Australians no longer feel in control. 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. 

In line with the global results, Australians are more fearful than optimistic. 59 per cent say the pace of change in technology is too fast and 69 per cent think the government doesn’t know enough about emerging technologies to regulate them effectively. 

In a new measure of competence and ethics, the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer, found that none of Australia’s four institutions — government, media, NGOs and business — are viewed as both competent and ethical.

“Trust today is granted on two distinct attributes: competence, delivering on promises, and ethical behaviour, doing the right thing and working to improve society. It is no longer only a matter of what you do—it’s also how you do it. Trust is undeniably linked to doing what is right. The battle for trust will be fought on the field of ethical behaviour,” Hutton explained. 

Australians agree that business have the ability to get things done – a key factor in competence – citing generating value for its owners (56 per cent), driving economic prosperity (46 per cent) and leading innovation (43 per cent), as areas they do best in. However, business falls short of ethical behaviour.

The results show Australian’s expect business to do more. 78 per cent of Australians believe CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for the government to impose it. 70 per cent of Australians agree that companies can take actions that both increase profit and improve communities, and the vast majority (91 per cent) view stakeholders – including employees, customers and customers – as critical to success, not shareholders. 

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