‘Trust’ and ‘public service’ are perhaps not concepts many Australians often associate with each other. Take Centrelink for instance – particularly in light of the disaster that was Robodebt.
But are there any public services some Aussies have a modicum of faith in? The release of a new report, Trust in Australian public services 2023, answers that question. The second annual report looks at 17 public services, using collected feedback to rank each of them.
When it comes to trust, Centrelink – perhaps unsurprisingly – comes in a clear last. Just 63 per cent of respondents believe the service to be trustworthy. And when it came to delivering ‘satisfaction’, Centrelink also ranked poorly. In fact, only one department scored more poorly in that area.
While Centrelink’s satisfaction rating was also 63 per cent, the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR) fared worse. Only 56 of respondents found the services provided by DEWR to be satisfactory. Trust in the DEWR was slightly stronger than in Centrelink, though with a 66 per cent rating.
Which public services do we trust?
The ‘star’ performer in 2023 when it comes to trust is the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). By the definitions provided in the report, 91 per cent of Australians trust the AEC. The 91 per cent comprise those who ‘strongly agree’, ‘agree’ or ‘somewhat agree’ with the statement, ‘I can trust Australian public services’.
In terms of satisfaction, the AEC also topped the table, with 87 per cent giving the commission a ‘thumbs up’. Other public service departments to fare comparatively well were the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Parks Australia, and Medicare.
To determine levels of satisfaction, the survey asked more in-depth questions. Respondents were asked ‘in what way’ were they satisfied. Results were provided via 17 different groupings within five broad categories: outcome, process, action, information and staff, as shown here:
A glance at the table below suggests a strong link between trust and satisfaction. This is not surprising, the report explains, stating that trust and satisfaction exist in a feedback loop. While the term ‘vicious cycle’ is well known, this loop is described as a ‘virtuous cycle’.
The report says: “When people are satisfied with the services they receive, it builds their trust. When people are trusting, there is more institutional legitimacy and compliance with public services. When people interact with services this way, they are more likely to have satisfactory experiences. Interactions like this have the potential to feedback positively on each other in a virtuous cycle increasing trust and satisfaction over time.”
Winning back trust
Trust in specific departments averages out to an ostensibly reasonable 73 per cent. Australians’ overall perception of public service tells another story, however. The 73 per cent figure was gleaned through respondents who had access to specific services in 2022-23.
Overall though, the report shows that only 61 per cent of Australians reported a ‘general trust’ in these services. An identical figure was reached in the first report in 2022. This suggests that since last year’s change in government there has been change in Australians’ overall perception of government services.
The 2023 iteration of the report is only the second. The third, fourth and subsequent versions should provide a greater understanding of how to achieve greater public service trust.
That’s the theory, at least. This report is provided by the Australian Public Service Commission. The commission is itself a public service, so can we trust its reports?
Would you say you have trust in Australia’s public service? Do the results in this report accord with your perception? Let us know via the comments section below.