Labor’s Voice disinformation

10 September 2023

By: John Roskam

‘Conservative mega corporations’ are imaginary

I wonder whether this counts as Voice campaign ‘disinformation’. I’m on the ALP email distribution list and a few days ago this message arrived in my inbox.

Dear John

The John Farnham Voice ad is going live tonight, and we need your help to keep it on air for as long as possible. Millions of Australians are still undecided about how they’ll vote in this Referendum. Which is why we need to maximise its airtime in the opening weeks of the campaign.

But here’s the problem. We’re up against the same conservative mega corporations that have funded the rise of the far right across the world. John, luckily, we have people like you. If only a small portion of people reading this email donated $50, the Yes campaign would be able to keep the ad on air for an extra week.

The NRL and AFL finals series begin this week, so we know people will be glued to their screens. Will you chip in $50 to help flood the TV screens and social media feeds of undecided voters over the next couple of weeks?

Pardon? ‘Conservative mega corporations’ are supporting No? Really? Name them. If it’s ‘mega corporations’ plural tell me who they are – not all of them – just two. Or name even one. The email didn’t name names because those ‘Conservative mega corporations’ are a figment of the Labor Party’s imagination.

But against this there are dozens of corporations and hundreds of company directors who can be named supporting the Yes campaign. More than 1,000 company directors put their name to a newspaper advertisement that appeared last week for Yes. It was organised by Ming Long, a director of AMP Capital Funds Management, QBE Insurance, and the Committee for Economic Development of Australia. At least those 1,000 company directors have the courage of their convictions. The AFL doesn’t. Having spent months making much of its support for the Voice, the AFL has decided not to have Voice-themed displays on grand final day. Apparently, ‘top government figures had said privately earlier this year they expected the AFL and NRL, who both declared support for the referendum in May, to capture the millions watching their grand final events to bring home the Yes message.’ An advertisement for Yes drowned by boos from the MCG crowd on grand final day would have been a sight to behold.

The ALP email neglected to mention that seven of the country’s ten largest public companies are campaigning for the Voice – BHP, Commonwealth Bank, National Bank, Westpac, ANZ, Woodside, and Wesfarmers. The directors of both BHP and Wesfarmers gave $2 million of shareholders’ money to the Yes side and NAB directors contributed $200,000. While the other three companies in the top ten, CSL, Macquarie Bank, and Fortescue haven’t announced a position, CSL chairman, Brian McNamee has spoken publicly of his personal support for the Voice – and for Australia becoming a republic. He’s also said King Charles III should ‘apologise’ for the ‘many bad deeds under in colonisation on behalf of the UK in many far-off countries including Australia.’

Perhaps we’ve become so accustomed to big business support for left-wing and woke causes we don’t fully appreciate the significance that not a single public company is backing the No case. Big business makes much of its regard for ‘stakeholders’ and the need to maintain it’s ‘social licence’. It’s hard to see how big business in Australia can maintain its ‘social licence’ when 70% of the country’s largest corporations have a position directly at odds with majority public opinion. Big business doesn’t care much for ‘diversity’ either. The Business Council of Australia for example claims to encourage ‘diversity’ because supposedly ‘Businesses want diverse workforces which reflect the community’. Clearly ‘diversity’ and a desire to ‘reflect the community’ only extends so far.

If a public company supporting the No case (assuming there was such a company – and there isn’t) had done what Qantas is accused of doing – selling tickets to flights it had already cancelled – you can imagine the reaction from the media and the ALP. But so far the Yes campaign has shown no willingness to disassociate itself from Qantas and presumably Yes advocates continue to enjoy the free flights Qantas is providing to the Yes campaign. Former deputy prime minister, John Anderson made the point that new Qantas CEO Vanessa Hudson could help restore the airline’s standing by providing free flights to the No side as it is to the Yes side. Qantas is yet to respond.

I wrote about Qantas (the company is the gift that keeps giving to opinion columnists) in The Australian Financial Review on Friday. This is some of what I said:

A Coalition MP quipped a few days ago – ‘the federal government once owned Qantas. Now it’s Qantas that owns the federal government.’ Which isn’t bad for a company barely among the country’s biggest 40 corporations and one that’s less than a twentieth the size of BHP.

More than one Coalition MPs has remarked, not without a hint a bitterness that $2.7 billion in taxpayer-funded support to Qantas during COVID didn’t produce much gratitude – but it did help the company make a $2.5 billion underlying profit and earn for Joyce a potential ‘golden handshake’ of more than $20 million.

It’s not often the secretary of the Transport Workers Union puts into words how Liberal and National Party MPs feel. In May, Michael Kaine, the union’s national secretary, said of Qantas’ projected profit – ‘This obscene profit forecast is the result of Qantas management bleeding dry workers, passengers and the taxpaying public. The right thing to do would be to pay back every dollar of no-strings attached government handouts Qantas received from Scott Morrison before it trashed every essential section of the airline to prop up executives and shareholders…’

For many Australians the last image of Alan Joyce will not be of him at a baggage carousel. (Indeed, photos of him with passengers, or with staff, are rare.) Rather, what will be remembered about Joyce is him standing next to the prime minister in front of a Qantas plane with ‘Yes’ written on it.

If Qantas employees are representative of the Australian public then at least half of the people who work for Qantas will be voting No. No-one has asked those staff how how they feel about what their employer is doing. A few days ago my colleague at the IPA, Scott Hargreaves received an email from an IPA member who passed on email from a friend of theirs, a long-serving member of the the Qantas cabin crew. Scott had written about how wrong it was for Qantas to engage in shameless political advocacy. I have permission to reproduce the email, which is below.

I feel sick to my stomach that the general public view all of us no matter if we are baggage handlers, caterers, cabin crew or ground staff as being tarred with the same brush as senior management. I feel sick that I may lose my job, I feel sick that people judge me personally and my colleagues broadly as having the same view that Joyce has foisted upon us.

His use of this airline as his own political platform to curry favour with any echelon of government or society to further his own aspirations of grandeur makes me sick. He lost sight of the fact we are an airline. We transport people from A to B.

I was absolutely grateful to receive Jobkeeper during Covid. I have never sponged off government handouts in my life. I’ve never had the Dole, First Home Owners Grants, Baby Bonuses and the way the governments into the future are going and the way Qantas is now, I may not have a pension and have to make good choices to save my super. I applied for at least fifty jobs during my stand down in Covid and was not successful at achieving one! I had to shed the areas of financial outlay that I really didn’t need just to survive.

My God, what a mess. The entire QF Board is complicit in this mess. I love my job and I hope I do a great job every day I go to work but the travelling public is really angry and they are taking it out on us. We didn’t ask for aircraft to carry politically sensitive messages like Vote Yes, but man are we being abused for it. This current situation and the constant media beat-up will only serve to ensure the rednecks and those already thoroughly disconnected since Covid to become more savage. Society has descended into anarchy and has lost its collective mind not to mention its sense and sensibility and sense of fairness and no-one has any manners any more.

I just hope I have a little more longevity and can ride this out for the next five years, then it will be time to transition to the next chapter of life. I sound miserable but I’m really angry, I’m just so glad some of our passengers understand that we at the front line do try hard to make a difference and see where the blame lies most directly.

And finally. Another week…another poll showing support for Yes continuing to fall.

Such polls are not necessarily good for the No campaign. Complacency is the enemy. If No voters feel they’ve already won and they don’t vote (even though voting is compulsory), there’s every chance Yes could succeed. What Noel Pearson said this morning on the ABC’s Insiders program (where else?) is absolutely correct – ‘the Yes campaign can absolutely win’. Yes has more money and apparently has 30,000 volunteers already signed up. A year ago when No was polling at 35% the challenge was to communicate to potential No voters they were not alone and it was OK to vote No. Now the challenge is to not let No voters believe that because everyone else is voting No that their vote doesn’t count.

According to a poll from RedBridge released yesterday 61% of Australians are opposed to the Voice. 39% are in favour – the lowest vote for Yes recorded so far in any poll. It’s noteworthy that the primary reason No voters give for opposing the Voice is that ‘it divides us’. Writing in The Daily Telegraph today, political editor James Campbell had an interesting perspective on what this meant for the Liberal Party if No succeeds.

A failure on the Voice will leave a bitter taste in the mouth, one that will last years. The cynical view in Canberra is that, from the get go, Albo has always reckoned he’s flipping with a double-headed coin. If the Voice gets up well and good: he’ll be a Whitlamesque Labor hero. If it flops, that won’t be a problem because it won’t hurt the government’s chance of being re-elected, indeed it might even help because Teal voters are likely to blame Peter Dutton and the Liberal Party.

The problem with this strategy, if that’s what it was, is that to blame defeat on the Coalition, the Voice needed to fail narrowly. But on current trends it isn’t just going to miss the tape by inches, it’s going to lose by the length of the straight. As a colleague remarked to me recently, Albo appears to have forgotten that when you set out wedge your opponents, ‘it’s not set and forget’.

Moreover, as much as Liberals will claim the ‘victory’, the fact is if that RedBridge poll is right, it will have flopped for reasons that are very different to the ones Dutton is advancing. Peter Dutton is, in theory anyway, open to some kind of Indigenous recognition in the constitution and would legislate local Voices. He is not against the idea on principle, far from it.

But if RedBridge is right, the main argument people have fastened on to as a reason to vote No, is the fear the Voice will be divisive. In other words, they’re more afraid of it in theory than the practical concerns about court challenges and the like, that Liberals have been talking about.

It’s not a question of No voters being ‘afraid’ of the Voice ‘in theory’. The issue is much more fundamental. Put simply, the Voice overturns the principle that all Australians are entitled to equality of citizenship. If the Voice succeeds we will no longer be ‘One’.