Even before recent scandals rocked state and federal parliaments, Australians overwhelmingly felt politicians were failing to meet their public interest expectations.
The latest Next25 Navigator study, a poll of 2825 people from last December to February, has found the political class fared the worst of six key institutions on public interest performance.
According to the annual report, released on Wednesday, only 22 per cent of respondents thought politicians were acting in the public interest.
"One conclusion we can draw from our data is that whatever the government is doing, it isn't working," said Ralph Ashton, executive director of Next25, a non-profit group which runs regular leadership courses for parliamentarians.
"Our research found that four in five Australians believe politicians have the most say in setting priorities for Australia, but only one in five believe politicians are acting in the public interest.
"This is a clear fail for the political class."
The report shows just 27 per cent of those surveyed think governments prioritise voters above others, and 34 per cent believe they take into account the impact of their decisions on future generations.
Most respondents (61 per cent) do not think Australia is a better country than it was five to 10 years ago, while only 39 per cent are confident the nation will be better off in another five to 10 years.
But public dissatisfaction was not just reserved to politicians, with none of the other five groups - the media, public service, businesses, academia and experts, and non-government organisations - scoring above 40 per cent on public interest.
The nation's legal system was also heavily scrutinised, with less than half of people (46 per cent) saying they thought it to be "fair, honest and capable".
Women (42 per cent) were less likely to agree with that statement than men (51 per cent).
The report notes the poll was taken before the nationwide March 4 Justice rallies - sparked by the alleged rape of former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins and the sexual assault scandal involving senior government minister Christian Porter - and further Indigenous deaths in custody.
Nonetheless, 70 per cent of those surveyed still believe politicians can contribute to change on important issues, although two-thirds want more of a say beyond just voting on decisions made on their behalf.
Mr Ashton described the survey results as a "wake-up call" for leaders in all sectors.
"We now have a clear picture of the future Australia wants," he said.
"We know where the biggest gaps are. The public has set out the to-do list for Australia's leaders."
AUSTRALIANS' VIEWS ON INSTITUTIONS ACTING IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST:
* Politicians: 22 per cent
* Media: 26 per cent
* Public service: 27 per cent
* Businesses: 32 per cent
* Academia and experts: 37 per cent
* Non-government organisations: 40 per cent