But it is utterly wrong-headed to blame the voters for the declining trust in politics. Painful though it sometimes is to admit, there is real truth in the old ALP mantra that “the mob always gets it right”. In a democracy the voters are the ultimate arbiters. Those who don’t like a particular result have no alternative but to examine the quality of their analysis and advocacy. And it’s not just our political parties but all the other institutions who are facing seriously low and declining levels of trust who need some similar introspection.
To help stimulate that process, our annual ANU Crawford Leadership Forum – often described as “Australia’s Davos” (though without the Swiss event’s expense and exclusiveness) – is this year built around the theme of “Rebuilding Trust” in our public institutions and policymaking. The ANU was established in the immediate postwar years with a strong mandate to contribute intellectually to the development of good national public policy, and we take that responsibility seriously.
The Forum in Canberra, which runs until Tuesday, brings together again about 150 personally-invited Australian leaders evenly drawn from the public sector, business and media, and academic/think tank communities, to discuss current global geopolitical and economic realities – not least the ever growing US-China tension – and the domestic choices that flow from them. They are joined by a stellar cast of US, European, Chinese and other Asian figures (including Malaysia’s leader-in-waiting, Anwar Ibrahim),
In a global and domestic environment in which it is all too easy to succumb to paralysed pessimism, it is desperately important to bring together policymakers, experts and community leaders to generate informed public debate and encourage creative new solutions to both new and old problems.
This year’s Crawford Forum will be as good an opportunity as we will have for some time to address the malaise so obviously afflicting so much policymaking, and so obviously contributing to the decline of trust in so many of our public institutions.
Gareth Evans is chancellor of The Australian National University and was a cabinet minister from 1983 to ’96.
The 2019 Crawford Leadership Forum takes place at The Australian National University from June 23-25.