“Because we see them more often in the media, our perception of proximity increases,” she said.
She said scandals and political infighting were important but had a diminished impact during a pandemic. “I think that there is an element of prioritisation when people are thinking about the overall perceptions,” said Ms Motto, whose organisation counts company secretaries and risk managers among its members.
Frontline health and emergency services dominated the list of most ethical professions in the survey of about 1000 people, which was conducted in October by polling firm Ipsos. It ranked professions, industries and policies with a net figure based on the percentage of people with an unfavourable view of their ethics subtracted from the people with a favourable view.
Firefighters (82), general practitioners (80) and paramedics (80) were perceived to be the most ethical occupations, although paramedics slipped three points on last year. Federal politicians were up 24 points to negative three with state politicians faring even better, up 30 points to a score of positive two.
Measures such as mandatory mask wearing, clamping down on travel from local hotspots and closing international borders all enjoyed high levels of support, with net ethics scores in the 60s.
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners acting president Ayman Shenouda said the widespread adoption of tele-health services by GPs had helped his profession’s image. “We’ve been asking for that for a while but when the pandemic came it just made really a huge advantage to patient access to care,” Associate Professor Shenouda said.
Even occupations perceived as unethical overall improved their net score. Real estate agents, rated the third least ethical occupation, had a net score of negative two, a big improvement from last year’s negative 21.
Matt Lahood, chief executive of real estate group The Agency, said relief for tenants unable to meet their rent payments during the pandemic might have contributed.
“The real estate agents’ role was probably never more needed than it was during COVID, especially in the rental side and the commercial side,” he said.
And he was not offended to see real estate agents languishing far below frontline workers on the list. “We’re selling houses, they’re saving lives,” he said.
The media industry received the wooden spoon among broad sectors with a net score of negative three, although it was up fourteen points on last year.
Nick Bonyhady is industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based between Sydney and Parliament House in Canberra.