While American CEOs ponder whether to air their views on controversial topics such as immigration and gun control, one lawmaker Down Under certainly hasn’t minced his words while giving his business cohorts some advice.
CEOs should essentially keep their mouths shut, was the lowdown from Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who slammed leaders of companies including Apple, IBM and Qantas Airways during a fiery interview on Sydney radio this morning.
“If people want to enter politics, then do that, but don’t do it from the office overlooking the harbor on multi-million dollar fees each year,” Dutton said. “I just think its high time these people pulled back from these moralistic stances and we’d be a better society without them.”
The issue in question in this particular instance was same-sex marriage, which is still illegal in Australia. The ruling conservative Liberal-National coalition is divided on the issue, though the more right-leaning faction of the party has successfully stifled a parliamentary vote.
Dutton’s outburst came after The Australian newspaper said it had obtained a draft letter signed by 20 business leaders urging prime minister Malcolm Turnbull to legalize same-sex marriage. “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 reportedly states.
The leaders also claimed that customers are being more discerning about products and services that “better represent their values”, while warning that corporate social responsibility is a growing concern for big international investors.
Dutton argued that CEOs should spend more time talking about hard business topics such as tax reform, indicating that he disagrees that controversial issues affecting minority groups were particularly relevant to business performance and economic prosperity.
“If they want to run for politics, well, resign from their position, stick their hand up at the next election, but don’t jam your politically correct views down our throats,” he said. “I think there needs to be, frankly, a shot across their bow at the moment.”
He singled out Telstra, the country’s largest telecom, suggesting that CEO Andy Penn should focus more on customer service than “fringe issues”.
“My view of Telstra is that they’d be better off to concentrate their efforts on cleaning up their call center operations, because we had a problem with our phone at home last week; now, like you, I lead a fairly busy life, the thought of hanging on the phone for an hour to some person in the Philippines and still getting nowhere at the end of the call drives me crazy,” he said.
Australian LGBT rights activists have noted that pressure from American CEOs, including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Starbucks’ Howard Schultz, helped lead to same-sex marriage being legalized in the U.S. It also is now legal in more than 20 countries, including the UK, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, France, Spain and Mexico.
Signatories to the letter include Penn, Qantas’ Alan Joyce, who is openly gay, and the local heads of Apple, IBM, KMPG and PwC. Other participants include the CEOs of two of the country’s biggest banks, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Australia & New Zealand Banking Group, and one of its biggest retailers, Wesfarmers.