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Annual Ethics Index released today sends a tough message to Canberra on climate change

Nine in ten Australians want the Federal government to take action on climate change and a similar number say organisations must also take action, even if it impacts profits and job losses.

This is according to the Governance Institute of Australia’s Ethics Index for 2019, which also found that 53% of people believe Australia has an urgent ethical obligation to transition to renewable energy.

CEO of Governance Institute of Australia Megan Motto said the Ethics Index (which surveys more than 1,000 people with various political and socio-economic backgrounds about their perceptions of ethical issues and conduct) sends a clear message about the way Australians view climate change.

“For the past four years the Governance Institute’s Ethics Index has provided invaluable insights across a wide range of ethical issues, including Australians perceptions of job types and industries.

“We’ve been struck by the clear and compelling message from this year’s index for business leaders and the government: that more Australians now regard climate change as an urgent ethical obligation,” Ms Motto said.

Climate change has moved from tenth position to be the third most difficult issue to navigate ethically (37%) while immigration is again rated the most difficult area to navigate ethically (49%), followed by euthanasia (39%).1

When all occupations across all industries measured by the index are amalgamated, the most highly rated ethical professions are ambulance services, nurses and fire services, while federal politicians are seen to be the most unethical, followed closely by state politicians and real estate agents2.

When it comes to ethical perceptions of sectors, the banking and finance sector continues to be the worst performing, followed closely by media, large corporations and Government. The sectors rated most ethical are health (for the fourth year in a row), education, charities and not-for-profit organisations and agriculture3.

“The banking and finance sector continues to suffer from credibility issues following the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry. One in two people now rate the sector either ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ unethical.

“High executive salaries are seen as the most ethically important issue for the banking and finance sector with 74% of Australians saying it’s unethical to offer a CEO salary of more than $3m per annum4,” said Ms Motto.

Within the media sector, Australians continue to rate the ABC as the most ethical media platform (62%) ahead of free TV (45%). Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, continue to receive the lowest ethical scores within the media sector (less than 30%)5.

Within larger corporate organisations company secretaries are perceived to be the most ethical occupation (41%) while the ethical perception of directors of foreign companies operating in Australia are perceived to be the least ethical (25%)6.

When rating the ethical behaviour of people they are in close personal contact with, most people rated their GP as the most ethical person they are in contact with (82%) followed by their pharmacist (80%). In stark contrast are local members of federal parliament, state parliament and local councillors who tied in last position with just 39%7

The Ethics Index also offered insights into future areas of ethical consideration, reporting that Australians are becoming more at ease with the ethics of crowdsourcing apps such as Uber, Airbnb (ethically difficult by 18%) and fewer are concerned by the use of big data to target consumers (36% ethical difficulty).

In contrast, Australians are most concerned about embryo experimentation (53% ethical difficulty), gene manipulation for medical treatments (47% ethical difficulty), developments in artificial intelligence (43% ethical difficulty), and self-driving cars (43% for ethical difficulty)8.

About the Ethics Index

Every year, the Governance Institute of Australia surveys Australians from all walks of life, asking them questions about their perception of ethical conduct across a wide range of areas.

This fourth annual study has been extended to include questions regarding climate change, renewable energy and Artificial Intelligence.

The research was conceived by C3 Content and is conducted by independent global market research firm Ipsos in October 2019. The sample size of around 1,000 was drawn from across the country and spans the political spectrum.

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Media contact:

1 Governance Institute Ethics Index, Slide 48
2 Governance Institute Ethics Index, Slide 35
3 Governance Institute Ethics Index, Slide 23
4 Governance Institute Ethics Index, Slide 43
5 Governance Institute Ethics Index, Slide 30
6 Governance Institute Ethics Index, Slide 32
7 Governance Institute Ethics Index, Slide 50
8 Governance Institute Ethics Index, Slide 49


2019 report to members

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