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Is this the role of business?

OPINION  |  Robert Ward
Monday 2 May 2016 

Australian businesses and unions have long played a part in the political scene. On the one hand the unions have been seen to be supporting the left side, with the business world more to the right. In some respects this has also has some effect on social polices of ether side as well, with a big push for more support for the disadvantaged from the unions and a more conservative approach from business.

But today business seems to be taking upon itself a larger role. Perhaps even a leadership role. Look at Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC), or maybe Telstra, ANZ Bank or any one of a number of Australian companies that are going beyond their core business of delivering goods and services to the Australian public, and are entering the political fray in ways not imagined a few short years ago.

During a recent interview with former Prime Minister John Howard, he commented that although he was a long-standing customer of a firm that was making public pronouncements on these issues, they had never asked him if he supported their position. Mr Howard said that he did not believe it was the role of business to act in this manner.

A full page ad in The Weekend Australian from 2015.

A full page ad in The Weekend Australian from 2015.

Mark Allaby, a senior executive at PwC who in his own time served as an unpaid (volunteer) director of the Australian Christian Lobby was forced to resign from that position after an ‘investigation’ by his firm. PwC is of course the firm that authored the widely discredited report that the plebiscite on marriage was going to cost $525 million and is an ‘out and proud’ member of ‘Pride in Diversity’.

Take another instance, this time in our Parliament with Senator Joe Bullock. A major player in the WA Labor party for many years, he said he had no choice but to resign, as to vote for same-sex marriage would violate his conscience. Yet it was just 12 short years ago that both sides of politics agreed on this issue.

In Brisbane last year, customers at the Grill’d burger chain were offered the opportunity to support one of several local charities. One of these was Cherish Life, a group supporting women with unplanned pregnancies. Someone complained, tagging them as ‘anti-abortion’. Grill’d management pulled them form the list and apologised to their customers for offering them this choice.

Eternity understands that a wrongful termination case is under consideration. A bank induction policy has caused employees to feel threatened.

Recent media reports that the then head of Telstra was asked by a Catholic Bishop to explain their public stance on same-sex marriage show what impact business support can have. While Australian Marriage Equality states that about 870 businesses have publicly indicated their support for ‘marriage equality’, Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show around 2,121,000 active businesses in Australia. In recent days Telstra has confirmed it will again take an “active position” on marriage equality.

But then perhaps as Mr Howard put it: Companies should not be taking sides on these issues.

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