Qantas will continue to advocate for same-sex marriage despite Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s pointed criticism of its chief executive Alan Joyce’s public statements.
Mr Joyce was one of 20 high-profile chief executives, including the heads of Westpac and Commonwealth Bank, who urged Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to legislate same-sex marriage earlier this week.
The letter was coordinated by the Australian Marriage Equality lobby group and has been criticised by some Government ministers who argue publicly listed companies should refrain from making political statements.
Mr Dutton singled out Mr Joyce at a Queensland LNP conference on Saturday, saying he should keep his personal opinions distinct from his company platform.
“Mr Joyce is an exceptional CEO — he’s a good person and I know him personally — I have no gripe against him,” Mr Dutton said.
“But if he has a particular view on any issue it should be expressed as an individual.”
Mr Dutton said it was unacceptable for chief executives like Mr Joyce to use their company’s brand to campaign for same-sex marriage.
“It is unacceptable that people would use companies and the money of publicly listed companies to throw their weight around,” he said.
“If Alan Joyce and any other CEO wants to campaign on this or any other issue in their own time and on their own dime, good luck to them.
“Don’t use an iconic brand and the might of a multi-billion-dollar business on issues best left to the judgements of individuals and elected decision makers.
“I’d prefer publicly listed companies stick to their knitting and that is delivering the services for their customers and providing a return for their shareholders.”
Mr Dutton said many of Australia’s largest corporations were being bullied into supporting policies by advocacy groups, fearing a public boycott of their services or products.
“Some companies are morally coerced into supporting campaigns in fear of being extorted by an online social media push to boycott their product and it is simply unconscionable,” he said.
In a statement, a Qantas spokesman said the company would continue to express support for same-sex marriage and “other things we believe in”.
“Qantas speaks out on a number of social issues from Indigenous recognition to gender diversity and marriage equality,” the statement said.
“We do so because we believe these issues are about the fundamental Australian value of fairness and we’re the national carrier.
The same-sex marriage plebiscite was blocked in the Senate — as expected — but the debate is far from over.
“We respect the fact that not everyone agrees with marriage equality, but opinion polls show the majority of Australians do, as do many of our employees.”
Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott also signed the public letter and said the Government needed to prioritise same-sex marriage.
“It’s one of those issues we can’t seem to get traction on but it’s something we are asking the Government not to put off, or kick it away again,” she said.
“It’s something that people feel very strongly about.”