The lion’s share of the top 20 Australian companies – including the banks, BHP, Rio Tinto (who work closely with First Nations people), Wesfarmers and Telstra– have given their support to the Yes team.
And a large contingent of business leaders, spearheaded by Business Council of Australia president Tim Reed, attended the Garma Festival, which Albanese used to reaffirm his government’s commitment to the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
“I think business has every right, and not only right, but actually every obligation to be a part of this conversation”, Reed said.
But as community support for the Voice has been eroded, the aggressive No campaigners have taken aim at business.
And then there is Qantas. Under the Joyce regime, the airline went way out on a limb to support same-sex marriage, which risked alienating its more conservative and older customers.
But for the airline which has a very diverse gender workforce, championing the interests of the LGBTQI community made sense.
On the Voice, Joyce has done it again, this time standing side-by-side with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in front of a livery emblazoned with “Yes23”.
Appreciative as the prime minister might be of Joyce’s support, it’s a risky strategy for the government.
Albanese is already on the back foot defending his recent decision to reject a request from Qatar Airways for additional services into Australia – and at a time when international airfares are 50 per cent higher than they were pre-COVID. Qantas is a significant beneficiary of the government’s decision.
Joyce has a legion of detractors who argue that the airline should be spending its capital and its energy on customer service, rather than supporting other causes.
So, it’s debateable that Albanese will feel the glow from any Joyce halo and that this week’s solidarity event looks a bit misguided.
But the broader support for the Voice from business has been more quietly supportive as the debate has become divided along political lines.
Telstra, for example, supports the Voice, due to its strong ties to Indigenous communities and employees.
“Telstra is committed to reconciliation because it represents an enormous opportunity to make Australia a fairer, more inclusive and more successful country. We have been and will remain strong supporters of the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the Voice to parliament,” the telco said.
“We strongly believe a more progressive, unified and inclusive Australia – which is what reconciliation will bring – will have positive impacts on the economy and our business.
“We are working closely with the campaigns to understand their needs and they ways we can help. We have provided some practical support including mobile connectivity. We’ll continue to talk with the campaigns and consider appropriate options to continue our support.”
And among those businesses that have not publicly picked a side, many such as Macquarie Bank have been providing staff with talks from legal and Indigenous experts to allow them to make more educated decisions.
The wellbeing of all parts of the community and the wellbeing of society should be important to all businesses – so picking a side in the debate around the Voice shouldn’t be discouraged.
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