Australians don’t think institutions are serving the public interest, study finds

By Shannon Jenkins

April 1, 2021

Only 27% of Australians believe the public service acts in the public interest. (Image: Adobe/Wayhome Studio)

Less than a third of Australians believe the public service acts in the public interest, a survey on what Australians want has found.

The new Next25 Navigator report, which is based on a survey of nearly 3000 Australians, found that 40% of respondents think non-government organisations act in the public interest.

Meanwhile, only 27% of Australians believe the public service acts in the public interest, and only 22% think politicians act in the public interest. While the media only received a score of 26%, other institutions performed better, with experts/academia receiving 37%, and business hitting 32%.

It is concerning that no institution rated higher than 40%, suggesting that Australian institutions are “not in touch with the needs of the people”, according to the report.

“It is clear that the public believes that institutions are not serving the public interest,” it said.

READ MORE: Governing in the public interest: governing in what?

Next25 executive director Ralph Ashton said many of the largest gaps identified in the Navigator related directly to government.

“One conclusion we can draw from our data is that whatever the government is doing, it isn’t working,” he said in a statement.

“Our research found that four in five Australians believe politicians have the most say in setting priorities for Australia, but only one in five believe politicians are acting in the public interest. This is a clear fail for the political class.”

Only 27% of respondents believe that governments prioritise voters above others, and just 34% feel that governments take into account the impact upon future generations when making decisions.

The Navigator also found that 61% of respondents don’t think Australia is a better country than it was 5-10 years ago, while only 39% are confident that Australia will be better in 5-10 years time.

While Australians still believe in democracy, their belief is “fragile”, the report said, with 64% of respondents indicating that continuing as a Western liberal democracy is important. Only half of the respondents think Australia is performing well as a democracy, the report said.

While 66% of Australians think it’s important to have a say in decisions made on their behalf, less than half of that (30%) believe they can influence Australia’s future, and 13% believe they have no influence at all.

Next25 plans to undertake further research to understand the findings. In the meantime, leaders and institutions must step up to make the future Australia wants, according to Ashton.

“The public has set out the to-do list for Australia’s leaders. With our annual release of the Navigator, we will have an ongoing assessment of politicians and other key institutions,” he said.

READ MORE: Governing in the public interest: how desperately Australia needs a forgotten concept


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