Business is perfectly entitled to speak on social issues, Anthony Albanese says | Australia news
Anthony Albanese will declare business is perfectly entitled to speak out on social issues because the most successful firms operate in ways that reflect the values of their staff and customers.
Morrison’s assistant minister, Ben Morton – a close ally of the prime minister’s – used a recent speech to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry to blast corporates for their activism, declaring chief executives “too often succumb or pander to similar pressures from noisy, highly orchestrated campaigns of elites typified by groups such as GetUp or activist shareholders”.
As well as Morton’s intervention, the resources minister, Matt Canavan, has been serially critical of resources companies reflecting publicly on problems associated with carbon risk, even though that issue has been flagged by regulators including the Reserve Bank, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority and the corporate regulator Asic.
Albanese, according to speech notes circulated in advance, will strike a different note, telling business leaders at a BCA breakfast that kind of reasoning – that businesses should stick to their knitting and not project values – “ignores the reality of business today”.
“The most successful businesses operate in ways that reflect the values of their employees and their customers,” the Labor leader will say. “You are not just takers of profit – you see yourselves as part of the community.”
He will argue being proactive on social issues is an important component of business addressing the decline in public trust of institutions and the steady “erosion of our standing in the eyes of the public”.
“The government might not get it, but Labor does.”
Albanese will also use Wednesday’s outing to reposition from Labor’s combative rhetoric of the “top end of town”, deployed during the last term in opposition, and project a more positive disposition. The Labor leader will say the opposition needs to rebuild relationships after the May election loss, “not least with business”.
The Labor leader’s olive branch to corporates comes as the Morrison government will press ahead on Wednesday with introducing the “big stick” package, which creates a divestiture power to break up energy companies engaged in price gouging.
The proposal is controversial within Coalition ranks, and has alarmed business. Sarah McNamara, the chief executive of the Australian Energy Council, which represents major electricity and downstream natural gas businesses, has warned the proposal “will do nothing to lower energy costs for Australian homes and businesses and in fact, it will have the opposite effect”.
“It simply creates an atmosphere of uncertainty and it heightens risk in the industry and what that means is higher costs for everyone,” McNamara said. “The last thing this industry needs, if we are to continue with the good work of putting downward pressure on prices, is legislation passed through the parliament like this which has no basis in any actual known misconduct or issue and rather is being passed for political purposes.”
Stakeholders have not been shown a copy of the legislation, which has been adjusted after internal lobbying from Liberals concerned it represented a draconian market intervention at odds with Liberal party philosophy.
In an effort to quell internal and external doubts about the package, the government will sunset the legislation in 2026, and amend the proposal introduced and shelved during the previous parliament to ensure any forced divestiture cannot result in the privatisation of state-owned energy assets. The government has now inserted a number of procedural steps to be undertaken before a divestiture can be ordered.
Labor has refused to say whether it will support the proposal or continue to oppose it, as it did in the last parliament, because it has not yet seen a copy of the legislation.
Centre Alliance has been signalling for months it will attempt to amend the proposal once it reaches the Senate to extend the divestiture power, which is limited to the energy sector, to an economy-wide power.
While an economy-wide divestiture power would have some currency within the National party, it would be opposed fiercely by Liberals. Backbenchers were given an assurance by ministers during a backbench economics committee on Monday, and during the joint party room meeting on Tuesday, that any amendments to the package during the parliamentary debate will come back to the Coalition party room for approval.