How ethical are our politicians? Report reveals public perception

There has been an improvement in the public’s perception of Australian politicians’ ethical behaviour, according to the latest findings from the 2023 Governance Institute of Australia Ethics Index.

The Ethics Index, now in its eighth year, examines perceptions of ethical issues and conduct in Australian society.

The annual survey provides insights into the most and least ethical occupations, organisations, and sectors, as well as the top ethical challenges ahead. It measures the population’s overall view on the importance of ethics in a well-functioning society. It also analyses the perception of ethical behaviour across different sectors.

It reveals that state and federal politicians have received more positive ratings this year compared to 2022.

Despite this improvement, politicians still rank lower than other occupations.

What’s behind the positive result?

The overall Ethics Index Score has risen from 42 last year to 45. The importance placed on ethics in society has reached an all-time high of 84, up from 79 last year. The increase is mostly driven by the values of millennials and gen X.

Megan Motto, CEO of the Governance Institute, believes the increase in the importance placed on ethics shows expectations are not currently being met.

“The Ethical Expectation Deficit – which is the gap between the value we place on ethical behaviour and the perception – is growing wider,” says Ms Motto.

“This shows that there’s still work to be done by organisations and individuals, both in the public and private sectors, to ensure ethical conduct and a positive culture remain a top priority.”

Ethical challenges ahead

The top ethical challenges of 2023 include the rising cost of living, cybersecurity breaches, and the increasing use of AI.

A First Nations Voice to Parliament is considered “somewhat ethical” overall. The overall score for the referendum is positive. Still, one in five respondents still see the Voice to Parliament as unethical.

Ms Motto highlights concerns about data breaches, with 73 per cent of respondents saying companies have an urgent ethical obligation to notify customers of all data breaches, not just the serious ones.

“Concerns around the use of AI and data breaches are clearly playing on the minds of the
public, with the majority feeling there is an urgent ethical obligation for companies to
notify customers of all data breaches – not just serious ones,” Ms Motto says.

More key findings of the 2023 Ethics Index include:

  • The maintenance of Stage 3 tax cuts while only delivering a modest increase to JobSeeker is seen as somewhat unethical, and breaking an election promise is seen as even more unethical.
  • The health sector received the highest ethical rating (66), while GPs who don’t bulk-bill are considered somewhat unethical.
  • The most ethical occupations were fire services (82), followed by ambulance services (80) and pharmacists (73).
  • Real estate agents were considered the least ethical occupation (-19).
  • The media sector was rated lowest in ethics (-9), with Twitter, TikTok, and Facebook also receiving unethical ratings.

Do you feel politicians are better or more ethical? What/who do you think could be behind this positive shift? Why not share your opinion with our readers in the comments section below?

Also read: We know politicians lie – but do we care?


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