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Nurses have edged out GPs to once again claim top spot as the health sector’s most ethical profession, according to this year’s Governance Institute of Australia Ethics Index.

The study found 82% of Australians rate nurses as ethical, ahead of GPs (78%), vets (77%), pharmacists (74%) and dentists (70%) within this category.

The perceived ethical behaviour of organisations within the health sector, named the most ethical industry overall, saw pathology services specialists emerge in front (71%), followed by public hospitals (69%), private hospitals (60%) and health funds (37%).

In its fourth year, the Ethics Index surveys over 1,000 Australians about their perceptions of ethical issues across all sectors and provides detailed comparisons of different sectors, organisations, occupations, and issues.

Ambulance services were the most highly rated ethical profession across all occupations, trailed by nurses, fire services, GPs, veterinarians, primary school teachers and pharmacists.

Within the aged care sector, aged care workers attained the highest ethical score (54%), followed by aged care organisations (36%), with aged care directors/executive management considered unethical and recording a score of just 31%.

The Ethics Index also analysed emerging issues of importance to Australians.

The top ethical issues in business concerned corruption (62%), company tax avoidance (51%), and high executive pay (45%).

Environmental responsibility and human rights were also mentioned more often in 2019, up from 36% to 44% and 27% to 32% respectively.

Significantly, climate change climbed to prominence as one of the most pressing issues, rising from tenth position last year to capture third.

The study found nine in 10 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.

“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,” Governance Institute of Australia Megan Motto said.