16 April 2014

Politicians always rate poorly in surveys of trust and confidence. The perception is of subordinating public service to self interest, of putting reelection above the idealism that first motivated a career in politics. There is a tolerance for business being self-interested while doing work that promotes society as a whole, but not for politicians.  The 2014 Edelman Trust barometer published in January indicated that public confidence in business was higher in 27 countries surveyed, than confidence in government.  In the US the difference was as bad as it had ever been.

Australian state politics is seldom well regarded.  Last year only 3% of Australians said that had “a lot of trust” in political parties.   Yesterday, the gloss seemed to come off the New South Wales Premier.  He came to power promising trustworthy government.  In opposition he had been unceasing in his condemnation of corrupt practices of the State’s then Labor government.  He championed the work of the Independent Commission against Corruption.  But this week evidence he gave to ICAC was established as untrue. The Premier described it as a significant memory failure.

His immediate resignation in the face ICAC disclosing a note from him, thanking a business connection currently the subject of ICAC interest,  for support and the gift of a $3000 bottle of wine, was described by the Australian Prime Minister as  “utterly honourable.” “This is honour and integrity…the like of which we have rarely seen in Australian politics…”

The Prime Minister spoke of his “enormous respect and admiration” for the Premier although the incident seems to have taken media attention away from the announcement of government support for the construction of a second Sydney airport

The Premier claimed that he had innocently and inadvertently misled ICAC, that he had no recollection of receiving the wine or of writing the thank you note. He had no intention to deceive. Bob Carr, a former NSW Premier has described “a debauched ethos of mate ship” among the State’s politicians.

The New Zealand Readers Digest 2013 survey of trust in 50 occupations ranked politicians in 46th place, ahead only of sex workers, car salesmen, door to door salespeople and telemarketers.