Aus­tralian busi­ness de­fends gay stance

Financial Times Middle East - - Front Page - JAMIE SMYTH — SYD­NEY

Cor­po­rate lead­ers have de­fended their right to push for same-sex mar­riage af­ter calls from im­mi­gra­tion min­is­ter Peter Dut­ton for them to “stick to their knit­ting” and stay out of the de­bate.—

Aus­tralian busi­ness lead­ers yes­ter­day de­fended their right to cam­paign for same-sex mar­riage fol­low­ing calls by two govern­ment min­is­ters for them to keep out of the de­bate, which risks di­vid­ing the rul­ing coali­tion.

Peter Dut­ton, im­mi­gra­tion min­is­ter, said at the weekend that busi­ness lead­ers should “stick to their knit­ting” and fo­cus on share­holder re­turns, rather than use their com­pa­nies to drive their own agen­das.

He also crit­i­cised Alan Joyce ,the gay chief ex­ec­u­tive of Aus­tralian air­line Qan­tas, for us­ing his po­si­tion to cam­paign for same-sex mar­riage.

“Cer­tainly don’t use an iconic brand and the might of a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar busi­ness on is­sues best left to the judg­ment of . . . elected de­ci­sion mak­ers,” Mr Dut­ton said in a speech to party col­leagues.

Aus­tralia is one of the last de­vel­oped na­tions in the English-speak­ing world that has not le­galised same-sex mar­riage, fol­low­ing changes to the law in Ire­land and the US in 2015. Polls show a ma­jor­ity of the pub­lic and MPs sup­port a change in the law but the is­sue has be­come em­broiled in party pol­i­tics and threat­ens to split the Lib­eral-Na­tional coali­tion, which has mod­er­ate and con­ser­va­tive fact ions.

Qan­tas de­fended Mr Joyce’s sup­port for same-sex mar­riage fol­low­ing the at­tack by Mr Dutt on, say­ing the Aus­tralian flag car­rier would con­tinue to speak out on so­cial is­sues from mar­riage equal­ity to indige­nous recog­ni­tion.

“We do so be­cause we be­lieve these is­sues are about the fun­da­men­tal Aus­tralian value of fair­ness and we’re the na­tional car­rier ,” the air­line said.

Tim Reed, chief ex­ec­u­tive of MYOB, an Aus­tralian-based busi­ness soft­ware com­pany, said the cam­paign for mar­riage equal­ity was clearly sup­ported by his work­force.

“You need to think about the broader community in ev­ery de­ci­sion you make ,” he told lo­cal ra­dio.

Two se­nior Lib­eral party min­is­ters re­jected Mr Dut­ton’s com­ments, not­ing that free speech should be pro­tected.

“People are free to take part in pub­lic de­bates and this is an is­sue that I’m sure will be the sub­ject of pub­lic de­bate for some­time ,” said Julie Bishop, Aus­tralia’ s for­eign min­is­ter.

The con­tro­versy has erupted as po­lit­i­cal and civil so­ci­ety cam­paign­ers in favour of mar­riage equal­ity press the govern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull to drop its plan to hold a plebiscite on the is­sue, which has stalled in par­lia­ment, and in­stead leg­is­late for re­form soon.

The lead­ers of 30 of Aus­tralia’s biggest com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Qan­tas, Com­mon­wealth Bank and Tel­stra, have signed an open let­ter urg­ing the govern­ment to act in the near term to le­galise gay mar­riage —are form that would be“good for cus­tomers, em­ploy­ees and Aus­tralia ”.

“It is very clear that the busi­ness case for sup­port­ing civil mar­riage equal­ity is com­pelling. En­abling lov­ing, com­mit­ted cou­ples to be mar­ried, re­gard­less of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, will con­trib­ute to a stronger econ­omy and a more in­clu­sive Aus­tralia ,” the let­ter says.

Mr Turn­bull is a strong ad­vo­cate of gay mar­riage. But, un­der pres­sure from rightwing MPs in the coali­tion, he agreed to sup­port hold­ing a plebiscite on same-sex mar­riage rather than a free vote of MPs to change the law. How­ever, the pro­posal to hold a plebiscite was de­feated in par­lia­ment, which has left the pro­posed re­form stalled.

— Gra­ham Jep­son

Alan Joyce, Qan­tas chief, has cam­paigned for same-sex mar­riage

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