The public’s degree of trust in the different tiers of government is associated with the extent of services available – low service levels generally translate to less trust, according to Flinders researchers.
The research project, run by the Discipline of Public Health at Flinders and funded by the Australian Research Council, used a telephone questionnaire to survey more than 1100 people to explore demographic indicators of levels of trust in federal, state and local government.
“Groups that are disadvantaged are more likely to distrust government,” said Dr Samantha Meyer (pictured), a member of the research team.
“We noticed that the groups found to be the least trusting are identified as having poor access to social services and to health care; this can be people who are socio-economically disadvantaged or who live in rural and remote areas, and older people.”
There are some interesting variations, however.
“Households with annual incomes between $60,000 and $100,000 showed low levels of trust in local government,” Dr Meyer said.
“What we suggest is that their active engagement with local government and awareness of the bureaucratic processes impacts their trust.”
Indeed, it seems that transparency can be a double-edged sword for governments: Dr Meyer said that in some countries high levels of transparency have been shown to have positive consequences for trust, while in others it has been negative.
“Trust takes time, and all the research we do around trust says it is very hard to build, but is broken down very easily,” she said.
“Your history or experience within the support of those systems – where you grew up, what political party was in power at the time, as well as your values and principles – generates your opinion of them.
“In groups that have had continued distrust – which have been ‘failed’ by the system – it’s going to take a long time to resolve, if it’s even possible.”
Loss, or lack, of trust has major implications for the implementation and uptake of public health services and programs, Dr Meyer said.
“If people don’t trust government, then they are unlikely to trust government health services.”
The research has been published in the Australian Health Review.