Where does your occupation sit on the ethical scale?

OCCUPATION RATING: Charles Sturt University Associate Professor Gene Hodgins, in the School of Psychology, says surveys based on perceptions of ethics have to be taken with a "grain of salt".

OCCUPATION RATING: Charles Sturt University Associate Professor Gene Hodgins, in the School of Psychology, says surveys based on perceptions of ethics have to be taken with a "grain of salt".

Firefighters and paramedics top the most ethical occupation list, while federal and state politicians and real estate agents are among the worst, according to a new survey.

This year's Ethics Index results, released by the Governance Institute of Australia, surveyed 1000 people with various political and socioeconomic backgrounds about their perceptions of ethical issues and conduct.

Sectors perceived as the most ethical were health, education, agriculture, charities and not-for-profit organisations.

However, the banking and finance sector continues to be the worst performing, followed closely by the media, large corporations and the government.

Charles Sturt University Associate Professor Gene Hodgins, in the School of Psychology, said these surveys have to be taken with a "grain of salt" as it is based on perception.

"Perception is made up of a number of things, such as attitudes, any experiences you've had yourself and prior experiences," Professor Hodgins said.

"I suppose the recency of experiences and also some occupations we interact with quite a bit compared to others where we don't, are also factors.

"For example not many people probably know politicians, so our attitudes are based on the media and based on what other people say or hear."

Professor Hodgins said when people are basing their opinions from what they have heard, it can become a bit like "Chinese whispers".

"Humans tend to make decisions on the information available to them and sometimes it can be second hand, anecdotal - it's not always rational or reasonable," he said.

"Some people see ethics as right and wrong, whereas others see it as moral and also spiritual.

"When we're talking about ethical organisations ... there's a difference between morally corrupt and what's right and wrong."

Professor Hodgins said anything with psychology is multi-faceted and complex and usually psychological perception is often driven by recency.

"With the Royal Banking Commission that happened recently, interest rates going down and Westpac boss stepping down ... these could be affecting people's attitudes," he said.

For Real Estate Institute of NSW president Leanne Pilkington, this data poses a direct challenge to the entire industry.

"We cannot accept these statistics and roll over," she said.

"It is clear we need to work to improve the way we are viewed by society.

"Shifting consumer sentiment is only going to happen when we can demonstrate that our focus is completely on the consumers and what their needs are."

According to the survey, 82 per cent of people rated their GP as the most ethical person they are in contact with, followed by their pharmacist at 80 per cent.

In stark contrast, local members of federal parliament, state parliament and local councillors tied in last position with just 39 per cent.