Pandemic trust high but none for politics

State politicians are less trustworthy than their federal counterparts - and real estate agents, according to the latest Ethics Index.

Top of the list on trusted occupations are nurses, followed by firies and ambos.

Compiled by the Governance Institute of Australia, the annual survey reveals an overall score of 42, down from 45 last year and slumping from a five-year high of 52 in 2020.

Social media giant TikTok, deep in the negative at minus 32, was seen as the least ethical organisation, overtaking payday lenders (-30) and Facebook (-28).

The worst sectors were media (-15), large corporations (-3) and resources companies (-1).

"We are now seeing a distinct downward trend in trust and ethics," institute head Megan Motto said on Thursday.

There's some bad news for campaigners in Victoria ahead of this month's state election and NSW, where voters go to the polls in March.

State politics was the least ethical occupation, falling to last place with a net score of -22 (down from -10 in 2021 and 2 in 2020).

Ms Motto said the strong sense that "we're all in it together" saw trust soar at the start of the pandemic.

Australians put their trust in governments and the medical profession and were largely rewarded.

"But we have seen an unravelling since," she said.

"It seems we are a little less trusting, more cynical and more divided."

Corruption, tax avoidance and dodgy advertising were top concerns about business.

Federal government and big corporations, not individuals, were seen as having the highest ethical obligation to respond to climate change, the survey conducted by Ipsos found.

Going on holiday with COVID-19 also poses an ethical dilemma for many Australians.

The survey found more than three-quarters (78 per cent) would take a test if symptoms appeared in the weeks before an interstate holiday.

And while ethics appear to be on the slide, expectations of good behaviour have grown.

The ethics expectation deficit - the gap between expectations of how ethical something should be and what occurs - widened this year to -37 (-28 in 2021).

"The wider the gap, the bigger the indication that society is not performing the way we want it to," Ms Motto said.

The coming year's top three ethical challenges are fixing aged care, more local manufacturing to reduce dependence on broken supply chains and action on climate and the environment.