Never before has the outcome of a US presidential election been so highly anticipated across the globe.
There is no denying President Trump was a divisive leader.
Over the past four years, we have watched an American president make his mark in history by trading in fear and falsehoods, choosing to exploit existing tensions, proliferating "fake news" or "alternative facts", and eroding trust in traditional media and institutions.
Many of us continue to watch in fear and shock as President Trump attempts to undermine the votes of millions of citizens in the United States by claiming a victory that is not his.
Actions like this are toxic for democracy. They create an environment of distrust in government and government institutions.
Australia's election processes are rightfully the envy of the world. We have compulsory voting, an independent electoral commission and preferential voting. When Australians go to the polls, we do not doubt that our decision on the day will matter. Our vote will be counted.
But we cannot be complacent or take this for granted.
Before the pandemic, trust in our government was at an all-time low. This distrust in government can easily spread to government institutions, like the public service.
It is the work of our accountability institutions, such as the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), that help maintain confidence in the functions of government. They hold our parliament accountable and ensure public resources are being used properly and fairly.
If it were not for the Audit Office, we would not have known that the outcome of a Coalition government sports grant application was determined not by merit, but by political motivation.
We would not have known that this government spent $30 million of public money on land valued at only $3 million.
We would not have anyone checking that the decisions of government and the resources of the Commonwealth are being made in the public interest and in accordance with due process.
Without the Audit Office, we would not have the assurance that the integrity of our electoral system is being upheld, free from influence and corruption.
The Audit Office plays a critical role in maintaining integrity and public trust within our system of government.
Since 2010-11, funding across all our accountability institutions has been cut by $1.4 billion in real terms. Our key accountability agencies have issued a warning that soon they will not be able to perform their core statutory functions.
Since 2016-17, the Audit Office has had its funding cut by $23.7 million. The 2020-21 federal budget delivered a $14 million cut to its operating budget. These cuts will reduce the total number of audits the office can undertake, and they come at a time when there is significantly more government spending to monitor.
While one key accountability institution is being hampered by funding cuts, another has failed to launch.
In December 2018, the Morrison government announced it would establish a Commonwealth Integrity Commission. Now, after almost two years, we have draft legislation that has been criticised for creating a toothless watchdog. This is far from what many Australians and CPSU members working in the public service want.
A strong integrity commission is in the public's interest. It's also in the interests of the public service, providing transparency and accountability. It must have the requisite power to take action against corruption and the resources, permanent staffing and mandate to be able to do its job.
During this time of global panic, fear, and confusion, we need our government to be accountable and transparent.
Instead of bolstering support for these institutions to do their vital work and uphold our democratic values, the Morrison government has continued to shy away from accountability, cut funding and delay key decisions.
If the government continues down the path of ripping funding from our accountability agencies, cutting public service budgets, cutting permanent staff, outsourcing public sector work to multinational corporations and labour hire companies that are unaccountable and driven by profit motives, we will face an increased risk of corruption and politicisation of our public services and trust in public services and public servants will diminish along with trust in government.
Our public services exist to level the playing field, to keep us healthy, to educate our children, to provide support when times are tough and to help the nation navigate the range of challenges we face.
If our public service is the foundation of our society, the work of institutions like the Audit Office underpins that foundation, keeping it strong so we can continue to build bigger and better.
Our public service is vital to our nation and national success - and it is agencies like the Audit Office and a properly empowered Commonwealth Integrity Commission that will ensure we can maintain confidence in our democracy, our government institutions and our public services.
This is what Australians rightfully expect and deserve.
- Melissa Donnelly is national secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union.