Australians’ trust in four of society’s pillars – government, business, media and NGOs – has plummeted, research published in the latest Edelman Trust Barometer reveals.

The findings reflect similar declines or stagnation in trust globally. But the research shows that the gap in Australia between what the report describes as the “trusting” informed public, and the more sceptical general population is the highest in the world.

As Campaign Asia reports, this “trust inequality” – a gap of 23 points – is the highest ever recorded in the country.

The only institution generally regarded as competent was business. Australians on the whole agree business has the wherewithal to generate value for owners (56%), drive prosperity (46%), and lead innovation (43%). It score less well when it comes to ethical behaviour, however.

In contrast, 48% of the public regard government as corrupt, biased and lacking in honesty.

“Australia’s informed public saw a severe breakdown of trust from the government in response to the bushfire catastrophes,” Edelman Australia CEO Michelle Hutton said.

“This should have been an opportunity to unite the nation and build security, but instead, the lack of empathy, authenticity and communications crushed trust across the country.”

Key reasons behind distrust of institutions are unfairness, dishonesty and a lack of vision for the future, Hutton said.

“Australians no longer feel in control. The new decade marks an opportunity for our institutions to step up, take action and lead on key issues that will unite Australians and instill hope for the future,” she added.

The fall in trust comes despite Australia’s relatively robust economic health – it’s now entering its 28th year of economic growth. Despite this, just one third of the population believe they will be better off materially in five years’ time, and half think capitalism today is doing more harm than good around the world. Some 80% say they worry about losing their jobs, partly because of zero-hours contracts, but also because of a lack of skills and increasing automation.

More than half of Australians (56%) say the system is failing them, and a large majority believe the media in particular is no longer dependable as a trustworthy source of information – 74% say they are anxious about fake news and information being used as a weapon. Over half (55%) say the media they interact with is already contaminated with fake information.

“The Australian dream is fragile, the general population are in a place of pessimism that is accompanied by a call for change,” Hutton said.

Sourced from Edelman, Campaign Asia-Pacific; additional content by WARC staff