Australians overwhelmingly believe politicians who lie, pork-barrel, or wrongly claim taxpayer money should quit, the Australia Talks National Survey has revealed.
Most Australians are of the view that their political representatives are dishonest, unaccountable and corrupt, according to the results from the representative, externally recruited survey panel.
Eighty-nine per cent of us agree that “most politicians in Australia will lie if they feel the truth will hurt them politically”.
But while we think politicians lie, that doesn’t mean we think it’s okay.
In fact, 94 per cent of us believe that a politician who is caught lying to the Australian people should resign their position.
As well as lying, the overwhelming majority of people agree these political sins should end careers: taking a bribe (98 per cent agree), wrongly claiming taxpayer money (92 per cent), and pork-barrelling (77 per cent).
But Australians think personal matters are less relevant to the job of governing the country.
We’re divided over whether a politician should resign after starting a relationship with someone who works for them, and only a small minority of us think someone who cheats on their spouse is unfit for the job.
‘Standards have undoubtedly dropped’: Labor
Federal Labor frontbencher Mark Dreyfus said those results did not surprise him.
“We’ve seen increasingly in recent years that politicians lie, they get found out, and nothing happens,” he said.
“If no-one is held accountable, standards will drop and that is what has been happening.”
“I’d like to think that I have not told a lie as a serving politician.”
Historically, ministers have been forced to resign from their portfolios over lies or expenses scandals.
For example, the Howard government lost seven ministers in its first year.
That included one who misled the Senate, three over conflicts of interest, and another three over their travel expense claims.
“All of that in recent years has slipped away, the standards have undoubtedly dropped,” Mr Dreyfus said.
‘They think that politicians lie all the time’
Accountability is another issue that Australians think is sorely lacking.
Just 22 per cent agree with the statement “politicians in Australia are usually held accountable for their actions”.
Helen Haines has been the independent member for Indi for two years.
“I am constantly surprised that there remains no code of behaviour [and] that many MPs and staff are operating in a framework that doesn’t really align with what happens in the general workforce,” Ms Haines said.
“It’s really disturbing that the general behaviour of politicians is seen by the public as being so poor, that they think that politicians lie all the time. That’s pretty terrible, isn’t it?
“If there has been a deliberate dishonesty take place, then yes, I think resignation is a very powerful thing to do, to demonstrate contrition and to really set the bar a whole lot higher.”
So what should be done about it?
Overall, around nine in 10 Australians agree the government should establish a federal corruption watchdog.
That includes 79 per cent of Liberal and National voters, and 96 per cent of Labor voters.
The Prime Minister announced a public integrity commission in 2018, but legislation to create it is yet to pass through Parliament.
The Morrison government declined an interview request and did not respond to the ABC’s questions.
Ms Haines has put forward her own bill to create one, in an attempt to force the government to be accountable for delivering on its promise.
“It’s almost 1000 days since the Prime Minister promised this nation a federal integrity commission to hold parliamentarians to account,” Ms Haines said.
“If you fall at the first hurdle, which is to establish the body … it demonstrates to me that there is not the strong intent to improve the behaviour here.”
“Until such a time as the government does as it promised to do and establish an integrity commission, then I have no doubt that the general public will continue to lose trust in those who govern them.”
Labor has said it would create an independent corruption watchdog if it wins the next federal election.
But if we all think politicians are dishonest and corrupt, why would we trust them to set the system right?
“We are committed to doing something about it and I’m perfectly prepared to accept that many members of the Australian community would say … ‘you’re all as bad as the other’,” Mr Dreyfus said.
“I’m asking the Australian public to accept that Labor is committed to doing something about that.”
On the cusp
Professor A J Brown from Transparency International Australia has been watching concerns about corruption grow in this country.
“Compared to other countries, I think you could say that Australians are on a bit of a cusp. They haven’t become disenfranchised or disengaged from their political system yet, but there’s definitely a growing concern,” Professor Brown said.
“The public support for that [an anti-corruption body] now including amongst LNP voters, for example, is really confirmation that people want to see the system strengthened.
“I think that people are aware that we don’t want to go down the same sort of corruption path that so many other countries have gone down.
“The place we don’t want to go to, and some states have been there in the past, is a situation where people are just resigned to the fact that governments get in and look out for their mates, that governments just line their own pockets.”
The Australia Talks National Survey asked 60,000 Australians about their lives and what keeps them up at night. Use our interactive tool to see the results and how your answers compare.
Then, tune in at 8:00pm on Monday, June 21 to watch hosts Annabel Crabb and Nazeem Hussain take you through the key findings and explore the survey with some of Australia’s best-loved celebrities.
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