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Introducing Democracy 2025 - Bridging the Trust Divide

Daryl Karp

Chair of CAMD & Director, MoAD

Mark Evans

Professor Mark Evans, Director of Democracy 2025, UC-IGPA

Across Australia trust in our democracy is on the decline. Trust is the glue that facilitates collective action for mutual benefit. Without trust we don’t have the ability to address complex, long-term challenges. Trust is also closely tied to democratic satisfaction. Our recent research, Trust and Democracy in Australia 2018 (discussed in a companion blog) shows that satisfaction in democracy has more than halved in a decade and trust in key institutions and social leaders is eroding. By 2025 if nothing is done and current trends continue, fewer than 10 per cent of Australians will trust their politicians and political institutions – resulting in ineffective and illegitimate government, and declining social and economic wellbeing. This problem must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

We are taking action; bringing together every section of the community and igniting a national conversation on strengthening Australian democratic practice. MoAD and the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis at the University of Canberra (UC-IGPA), are embarking on a bold new initiative, Democracy 2025, to bridge the trust divide and re-engage Australians with their democracy.

MoAD holds a unique position, on the frontline of democracy, civic agency and change, a museum not just of objects but of ideas empowering Australians through exhibitions, schools’ learning programs and events that both stimulate and inspire. Trusted by the public, government, public service and business alike, we advance national conversations about democracy, past, present and future. Democracy 2025 will drive a process of national reflection and renewal on how we can rebuild trust and strengthen democratic practice in Australia. We believe that this ambitious goal is critical to the democratic health of the nation and nothing less will do.


The need for action

Democracy is on the retreat globally. We have now entered what the Pew Research Centre has termed a global ‘democratic recession’ (Pew Research Center, 2017). Satisfaction with democracy is reaching a tipping point around the world— there are now more authoritarian regimes than full democracies (Kellogg, Varieties of Democracy Project, 2018). Weakening political trust erodes civic engagement, reduces support for evidence based public policies, promotes risk aversion in government, and creates the space for the rise of authoritarian-populist forces. Australia has not been immune to this worldwide phenomenon. Despite 25 years of economic growth— which traditionally means increased satisfaction— Australians have grown more distrustful of politicians, sceptical about democratic institutions and disillusioned with democratic processes.


How do we know?

Our research shows satisfaction in democracy has more than halved over the past decade, dropping to 41 per cent in 2018. Levels of trust – in the Australian Government at 31 per cent and politicians at 21 per cent, whether state or federal – are at their lowest levels since survey data has been available (MoAD, Trust and Democracy in Australia, 2018). Notably social trust between Australians has fallen below 50 per cent for the first time, to 47 per cent, and there is a growing group of disenfranchised voters feeling left behind and angry. Yet the data also shows that there is overwhelming support amongst Australian citizens for a range of reforms aimed at strengthening democratic practice, especially improved integrity, political accountability, and public participation.


How will Democracy 2025 seek to make a difference?

Our approach is inherently bold: targeting the threats to democracy head on, building a new generation of democratically engaged young Australians, and holding those in authority to account. We will audit the qualities of Australian democracy, investigate and experiment with what works in terms of renewing our representative system of government and facilitate non-partisan conversations on how to improve our democratic practices. At the community level, we will deliver transformational digital and face-to-face learning experiences to foster a politically literate citizenry and promote best democratic practices. Democracy 2025’s six core programs will be delivered in partnership with national and international leaders in their fields.

The creation of a Public Trust Index will establish a baseline for the measurement and improvement of Australian democratic practice and integrates the four key elements that influence public trust —integrity, transparency, accountability and participation— into a single democratic dashboard.

MoAD’s onsite schools’ learning programs currently reach 85,000+ students each year. Through the Ignite Learning Program, a new digital-based education program, we aim to reach every community in Australia.

As a first for Australia, the Democracy Lab will bring together the public, experts, politicians and government officials at Old Parliament House to co-design solutions for some of our big national challenges and experiment with new forms of democratic innovations.

Co-designed with government, business and community sector leaders, our Trust Building Public Leadership Program specifically aims to improve trust systems in Australia and integrity in governance.

Interactive and engaging, MoAD’s transformative exhibitions and events will showcase core concepts of Australian democracy and highlight our latest research, providing a unique space for visitor experiences and responses.

By building strong regional partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region to generate research, education and engagement, the Australian Democracy in the Asian Century program aims to enhance the quality of democratic practice.

Restoring trust in our democratic governance is critical to the health of our democracy and, more broadly, to the defence of liberal democracy in our region. Doing nothing is not an option. Democracy. Are you in?

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