Q&A 17th Feb 2020 Trust'

  Wednesday 19th February, 2020

Q&A Feb 17th 2020
Mon 17 Feb 2020.

Q&A 'All About Trust'. Was the 'trust' concept behind this episode of Q&A all that it seemed? Questions are crucial. They can be neutral, pure misdirection or anywhere in-between. Where does this episode of 'trust' sit?

Hamish Macdonald (moderator) "Tonight, it’s all about trust – who has it, who’s lost it, and the most difficult question – how do you get it back? We’ll be joined by those who have experienced our most and least trusted professions. Yep, you guessed it – the politicians and bankers are among them."

The ABC has been relentlessly attacked by the Australian Liberal Coalition (conservative) government and is under constant pressure to prove 'balance'. The ABC specialises in reasoned discussion and presentation of different points of view but has been regularly described as 'left wing' or 'unbalanced', particularly when it discusses government actions in a critical manner. Its effective finances have been consistently cut for several years.

This presents obvious dangers but some dangers are less obvious. 'Balanced' may sound good but in practice it can become artificial to the point of distortion. 'Balance' can bury significant information. It can confuse cause and effect. It can cause diversion.

This episode of Q&A may have been an instance where the effort to achieve 'balance' resulted in confusion and frustration.

It gave weight to data which would seem balanced but was not fit for the purpose.

It downplayed, ignored or omitted the relevant substantial data which would have uncovered meaningful public views and the opportunity for a highly productive discussion.

It also true that had Q&A run an episode on the substantial data, it may have run into political trouble but who knows? The answer to the problem is not clear as the choices are not good. 'Do no harm' is always an ethical principle.


This episode suggested that the low ranking of bankers and politicians in studies ranking different professions reflects a serious problem- serious enough to spend an hour of major television time discussing it. It is not. The topic diminished serious problems about public trust that could have been based on appropriate data.

The differences

The Edelman Trust Barometer does not target any group of individuals or any profession. It surveys trust in government, in media and in sectors such as the financial sector.

The importance

This means it is more likely to provide useful information. The public knows who the government is. Asking if you have trust in a government, the media or a particular financial sector is likely to bring forth reliable, rational and meaningful data. Asking about politicians or bankers is not. Most of us could barely name our federal politicians and 99% of our information about politicians comes from secondhand sources.

Government actions on the other hand, can be seen or felt. Broad generalisations about groups of individuals can be manipulated by media (even the quality media). If there are constant references to 'public distrust in politicians' it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, if it's repeated often enough, it starts to become 'true'. The phrase 'the public don't trust politicians' has been repeated consistently for at least 3 years.

What is wrong with asking about public trust in people?

  • Asking about trust in relation to people can be offensive and unreliable. Imagine asking someone whether they trust gays or redheads or people of colour. It is a form of push-polling. It sets you up to believe there must be a problem.
  • Quality data has a purpose. There is nothing wrong with studies which show us how we rank professions but professionals (on their own) seldom have power to change the world. Governments, the media, the financial sector do.
  • If data is irrelevant, discussions lead nowhere. Even if the Q&A panel and audience resolved their differences and started to like and trust each other, would it solve any current problem that besets Australia?

There is one reasonable response if asked about trust in politicians- 'which ones'?

Mila Vargas asked the key question of the evening ...'Where are the young people of Australia supposed to place their trust when the people in power seem all too often to prioritise their own self-interests over what’s best for the country?'

Jack Manning Bancroft, Founder and CEO of 'AIME Mentoring' gave a most impressive answer. ...'when we label all politicians or all governments with the same descriptor, we’re going to get ourselves into trouble. So, when your friends make fun of politicians, maybe ask them who, and start to break it down, because there are a number of people who give their life to service, who give their life to leadership – school principals, teachers, mentors, guides – and it’s very, very lonely, leading....'Absolutely hold our leaders accountable, but we also have to build that trust up as citizens, and work out how we build bridges of understanding both ways.'

Why is the Edelman data important?

The Edelman data is the gold standard in this area because it deals with public trust in government, democracy and the media, not individuals. These are the significant issues for public trust.

The government is important because it has power. The government could stop corrupt behaviour if it wanted to. The government could make democracy work fairly. The government could respect the views of other political parties if it wanted to. The government could achieve respectful and constructive parliamentary debate if it wanted to. (Teachers do it every lesson of the day.)

Democracy is important because it provides the chance of a fair political system.

The media is important in a democracy because all our voting information about the government, the alternatives and the way democracy is working come through them.

What is the respected data showing?

The substantial data shows what looks like strange contradictions. Australia seems to have voted in a government which it doesn't trust and has done so for nearly 9 years; Australians are dissatisfied with democracy yet are able to vote for the government of their choice...

The answer may lie in the other key data. If Australians don’t trust their media, they may well have strong doubts about whether Australian voting is based on factual, unprejudiced and fair political coverage...

...but if Australians don't trust their media-why don’t they find other sources of information?

The answer for many Australians may be similar to the reasons they don't find an alternative search machine to Google.

The data

In 2019 Australia registered as great a distrust of government as in the UK (with Brexit). Edelman Trust Barometer P41

In separate Australian data there is evidence to assert a massive and consistent decline in satisfaction with the 'way democracy works' since 2013; the apparent correlation for this decline is the arrival of the Abbott, Liberal Coalition government.

The ‘coup culture’ presenters say, represents the greed of the political class and began with Gillard however it seems as though the figures for satisfaction rose slightly under Gillard and have massively declined since she left.

To be continued. Jacquie Lambie on Q&A 'trust' episode.

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