Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has singled out QANTAS CEO Alan Joyce in another attack on Australia’s business leaders, saying they should “stick to their knitting” rather than try and “bully” governments on marriage equality.
Mr Joyce was one of more than 30 high profile chief executives who signed a joint letter urging Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to legislate same-sex marriage.
The letter, co-ordinated by Australian Marriage Equality, has been criticised by some government ministers who argue that publicly listed companies shouldn’t make political statements.
Mr Dutton (pictured) used the Liberal National Party’s state council meeting in Cairns to accuse chief executives, including Joyce, of using shareholders money to drive a personal agenda.
“If Alan Joyce or any other CEO wants to campaign on this or any other issue in their own time and on their own dime, good luck to them,” he said.
“Don’t use an iconic brand and the might of a multi-billion dollar business on issues best left to the judgment of issues and elected decision makers.
“I’d prefer publicly listed companies stick to their knitting and that is delivering the services for their customers and providing a return for their shareholders.”
Mr Dutton said he wanted a respectful debate on marriage equality, but added that publicly listed companies shouldn’t take political stances and business leaders should not prioritise debating moral issues over running their companies.
“None of these business leaders are out there talking about the need for changes to the tax system, supporting the government’s cut to company tax so they can employ more apprentices, more young Australians. They’re offshoring their call centres,” he said on Friday.
“If you want to become a politician, resign your job at $5 million a year, come on to $250,000, if they can tolerate that, and enter the political debate.”
But Education Minister Simon Birmingham disagreed, and said business was often a leader on social reforms.
“Throughout history business leaders have often stepped ahead of legislators in support of reforms to gender equity or racial equity,” he said.
“I see no reason why business leaders are not free to do likewise when it comes to issues like marriage equality.”
Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott, who also signed the public letter, said people feel strongly about same-sex marriage and the government needed to prioritise the issue.
“It’s one of those issues we can’t seem to get traction on but it’s something we are asking the government not to put off, or kick it away again,” she told the ABC.
Ms Westacott said Mr Dutton’s description of the letter as “politically correct nonsense” was “his opinion and we are all entitled to our views.”
“I know he said that business should be arguing for things like tax reform, but I don’t think anyone has argued harder than I have for tax reform,” she said.
Equality Campaign executive director Tiernan Brady welcomed support from Australia’s business leaders.
“Marriage equality is about real people, our family members, friends and also our work colleagues,” he said.
“It is wonderful to have the support of so many business leaders who first and foremost want to ensure that everyone who works for them is entitled to the same dignity and standing in their lives.”