Former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian at the NSW ICAC (Image: ICAC)

Australia's perception of itself as an ethical society has fallen in 2021 as Australians struggled to balance freedom of movement and individual liberties with efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.

A report by the Governance Institute shows that although ethical questions have never been so front of mind for most Australians, attitudes to how "ethical" we believe we are is declining.

“Last year we placed vast amounts of trust in our governments, scientists and health and emergency service workers during the initial waves of lockdown -- and our trust was rewarded as we saw, in many cases, COVID-19 numbers settling," chief executive Megan Motto said.