Telstra and growing corporate activism

There is an ominous social activism trend emerging globally. The rise of corporate activism has emerged, and emerged quickly. Big business is now adding their economic fire power and global reach to a wide range of politically correct issues. This emerging trend threatens our representative democracy and needs urgent action to address its growing influence over social policy and the national interest. 

Since the Obergefell decision handed down in June 2015 by the United States Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage, States across the USA have been introducing freedom of conscience and religious freedoms bills across a number of the States. Yet a growing number of corporations believe they are now the ones to determine which laws should stand.

PayPal believes grown men have the right to use the same toilets as little girls. They so strongly objected to a recent North Carolina state law that banned people from using toilets not assigned to their sex at birth, that they cancelled plans to open an operations centre in Charlotte, a loss to the state of 400 jobs. 80 Chief Executives, including Apple’s Timothy Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and the head of the Bank of America also joined in on attacking the new law.

The Disney Corporation threatened not to do any filming or business in the State of Georgia if a Religious Liberties bill was passed into law, the Governor caved in and vetoed the bill.

Religious Liberty bills in Mississippi, Arkansas and Indiana, have all come under attack from Fortune 500 companies such as Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, UPS and Marriot Hotels.

For just a brief period this last week, Telstra appeared to respond to both common sense and the interests of its shareholders when it backed away from campaigning on same-sex marriage after an exchange with the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.  However, no sooner than it takes to access their customer support, Telstra had been startled by online trolls threatening to change phone carriers if they didn’t get back behind the same-sex marriage campaign. Telstra looking cowardly and weak gave in to these online bullies, changing their position once again to support something that in no way benefits their shareholders.

There are over 380 Australian companies supporting the same-sex marriage campaign. Some would genuinely support the change, some would be just going along to be seen as part of the right crowd, and there are probably some that feel they have been bullied into giving their support. Whatever the level of commitment from each company, there are significant resources available to run large scale advertising campaigns against the Mums and Dads standing up for traditional marriage in the proposed plebiscite.

Disturbingly, not only do we have a growth in the number political decisions guided by the social media trends of the day, we now have CEO’s of publically listed corporations doing  the same thing, with this week’s winner by far being Telstra. If we could only have our economy grow at the same rate as the opportunists jumping onto the next social media campaign we would be back in surplus in no time at all.

Was everyone in the federal parliament in 2004 totally disingenuous when it came to the marriage issue? Did parliamentarians not really support the current definition of marriage when it was written into the Marriage Act in that year and passed into law without even the need for a vote?

There is scope for an individual to change their public position on a particular matter over time, whether in regards to tax policy, the rules governing union activity, laws surrounding small business operations, or some other similar legislative concern. If the law or policy is not achieving the desired outcome then thinking will need to change. However marriage is very different.  Marriage is a cornerstone in the foundation of civilised societies globally, from the beginning of known history.

Family First is the only party in federal parliament that has held a consistent position on maintaining marriage, and that won’t be changing. Marriage as currently defined is a significant social good. It creates an environment where a child can have the nurturing of both a mother and father, and grow and thrive in a place of safety and security. There are many types of exclusive relationships between individuals, marriage is just one and it is exclusive to being between just one man and one woman.

It is not the place of corporations to be campaigning on issues that don’t have the express support of their shareholders. It is an abuse of their social license when a corporation goes beyond the purpose and scope for which it was established. This must stop, and stop now.

Legislation may need to be enacted to ensure publically listed companies seek written authorisation from a majority of their shareholders, before they can give their name or support to a social activism campaign. Legislation of this type would do three things: Firstly, it would give cover to businesses that feel they are coerced or bullied into supporting a particular cause by powerful environmental, LGBT, or other lobby groups. Secondly, it would better protect the interests of shareholders from an activist CEO or Board. Thirdly, it would help to protect freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the national interest by limiting the influence big business has on political decision making.

The upcoming plebiscite on marriage is an opportunity for individual Australians to have their say. It is not for the big bullyboy corporations to push the agenda of the same-sex lobby through huge marketing campaigns.

I would encourage Australians to write to Telstra asking them to stop pushing the same-sex agenda. Some may wish to go the next step and stop doing business with Telstra while they continue to play social activism politics. We cannot let noisy internet trolls or large corporations decide our nation’s future.

First published in Online Opinion

Rod McGarvie, Senate Candidate Family First Queensland