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CEO Memo: Trust in the current climate

In business and politics, trust is everything.

For the fourth year, the Governance Institute of Australia’s Ethics Index provides a powerful barometer of Australians’ ethical perception of different sectors, industries and job types within them. But this year, we have seen the emergence of a new and undeniably clear theme. According to the Ethics Index, nine in ten Australians want the Federal government and organisations to take action on climate change, even if it impacts profits and job losses. About the same number of people believe Australia has an ethical obligation to transition to renewable energy, with over half of them describing this obligation as ‘urgent’.

These results send a clear and compelling message to the government and business sector — climate change is now an ethical imperative for many Australians and those who ignore this, risk losing credibility and trust.

The respondents to this survey overwhelmingly felt that accountability was the best way to ensure ethical conduct. And it probably makes sense that transparency and whistleblower protection also rated high, as key mechanisms that enable accountability.

For some sectors and professionals, trust continues to be a major issue. On the heels of the Royal Commission, the financial services sector again displays the worst ethical behaviour according to the results, followed closely by media, large corporations and government. High executive salaries rated as the most ethically important issue for the banking and finance sector with 74 per cent of Australians saying it’s unethical to offer a CEO salary of more than $3m per annum.

However, there are professions and sectors living up to Australians’ expectations of ethical behaviour. The sectors rated most ethical are health (topping the ethical sectors table for the fourth year in a row), followed by education, charities and not-for-profit organisations, and agriculture.

When rating the ethical behaviour of people we are in close personal contact with, most respondents rated their GP the highest, followed by their pharmacist. In stark contrast are politicians — federal, state and local — who tied in last position.

And interestingly within our community, company secretaries are perceived to be the most ethical occupation within corporate organisations.

I urge you to look at this year’s Governance Institute of Australia Ethics Index. It’s rich with fascinating insights across a broad range of issues and topics. Insights that I believe everyone must heed.


As a huge Christmas decoration enthusiast I get a bit excited at this time of year and look forward to that first twinkle of Christmas lights. It is also a time to reflect and as 2019 draws to a close, I am delighted by the progress that has been made across all areas of the organisation in my first year as CEO. As you can see in the 2019 Report to members it has been a busy and fulfilling year for Governance Institute.

I would also like to take this opportunity on behalf of the executive and staff of Governance Institute, to wish you and your families a very happy holiday season and all the best for 2020.

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