Could a more ethical Australia be the side effect of COVID-19 that no one saw coming?

by Freya Lucas

November 25, 2020

Ethics, a core consideration in the daily work of the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector, have been placed firmly on the agenda of many Australians, with the Governance Institute of Australia finding that the country has seen big change in the attitude and beliefs of many Australians when it comes to ethical conduct, challenges and dilemmas. 

 

The Ethics Index 2020, a national survey of 1,000 people’s attitudes to ethical conduct across society, found that this year’s Ethics Index Score is 52, up from 37 in 2019 – the biggest increase in the five years that information has been collected through the index, and one which the Institute says shows a broad consensus on a range of COVID-19 restrictions considered controversial in some sections of media and the community. 

 

The fact that Australia has achieved its highest ethical rating in the five years that the study has been conducted in 2020, Governance Institute CEO Megan Motto said, is no doubt a reflection of a year of hardship, during which co-operation, trust and transparency “have become paramount”, and have changed perceptions around how we function as a society.

 

Key findings of Ethics Index 2020 include:

 

  • Perceived most ethical occupations: Front-line health and emergency services dominated the top spots: fire services, GPs, ambulance services, and nurses, followed by education, which was viewed as the second most ethical profession. 
  • Perceived least ethical occupations: Real estate agents, federal politicians, directors of foreign companies operating in Australia.
  • Corporate Australia under scrutiny: CEOs and managing directors slipped into the bottom 10 list for occupations and ethical behavior in 2020.

 

Those surveyed had a broad consensus on a range of COVID-19 restrictions considered controversial in some sections of media and the community. 

 

From an ethical perspective, Australians strongly support government restrictions to contain COVID-19, and in particular lockdowns, the closure of international and state borders and mandated mask-wearing in public, including on public transport. 

 

In contrast, there is significant resistance to a herd-immunity approach, which 39 per cent of respondents believe is unethical, and has proved unsuccessful internationally. 

 

“The high esteem held for health and emergency workers reflects what we’ve seen on our TV screens over the course of the pandemic. Australians appreciate people who dedicate themselves to our wellbeing, especially at times like this,” Ms Motto said.

 

CEOs and managing directors slipped into the bottom 10 list for occupations and ethical behaviour in 2020 with real estate agents, federal politicians and directors of foreign companies operating in Australia in the bottom three despite some improvements compared to last year.

 

As corporate crises and inquiries dominate the headlines in late 2020, and as tough decisions continue to be made as a result of the pandemic, Ms Motto said organisations at all levels need to put a firm spotlight on ethics. 

 

“Ethics matter, in business and in society. Our survey shows that the perception of the finance industry in Australia is still recovering from the banking royal commission and other scandals, and the media is suffering the same crisis of legitimacy here as overseas. These perceptions have consequences, and our leaders need to get to work addressing them.” 

 

To access the full Ethics Index, please see here

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