Purpose of govt must evolve as voters seek ‘wellbeing’

Politicians are on notice that the old “jobs and growth” catchcry won’t be enough to attract voters, especially younger ones, in Australia’s evolving democracy.

Federal politicians are particularly on the nose, with less than one in five Aussies choosing federal government as the level of government that best reflects the interests and needs of the community, a survey released on Tuesday shows.

Many households are facing multiple crises – cost of living, storms and floods, or priced out of housing by rising rents and mortgages – and want wellbeing to be the top priority, according to a report on the purpose of government.

The independent Centre for Policy Development (CPD) data also revealed a preference for government to take a direct role in providing healthcare, education and employment services instead of outsourcing to private contractors.

Four in five want the wellbeing of the community to guide government decision-making, above other concerns, the survey found.

“With increasing cost of living pressures, more people agree that the wellbeing of the population should be prioritised,” CPD chief executive Andrew Hudson told AAP.

Wellbeing is also expanding beyond vague and hard-to-measure notions of “wellness” to include more affordable groceries, fair provision of social services and not destroying the environment.

“Australians see wellbeing as including a decent standard of living, access to quality health care, education, environmental sustainability, social equity and more,” he said.

For the first time, younger voters make up a comparable share of eligible voters as baby boomers and are not following the expected patterns of becoming more conservative as they age.

Surprisingly, younger adults were also more optimistic than average about the effectiveness of parliament, the ability of politics to take a long-term view, and the prospect of politicians serving the community’s interests not their own.

But overall concern over living standards has risen sharply, from 17 per cent in 2021 to 33 per cent in 2023, with “maintain a decent standard of living” becoming the leading option for the purpose of government.

Older people (55+) were more likely to choose “deliver and fund critical services and social infrastructure” as the main role for government, while those aged 18 to 34 were more likely to pick “create opportunities for future generations”.

State or territory government was consistently most associated with being responsible for delivery of services, although local governments are getting a growing share of recognition.

Leading political scientist Professor Anne Tiernan said 2024 was acknowledged as a “critical juncture for democracy” around the world.

But the research confirmed a commitment to fairness and opportunity was widely shared among Australians, she said.

The comprehensive data was gathered by Essential Research from October 2015 to December 2023 from eight survey waves of Australian residents over 18.


Marion Rae
(Australian Associated Press)


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