ALAN JOYCE: Isn't the kind of society we live in the point of economics?

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has responded to Turnbull minister Peter Dutton’s comments that business leaders should “stick to their knitting” and stay out of debates such as same sex marriage by questioning the point of business if it doesn’t make society better.

After 20 of the country’s most senior CEOs — including Ian Narev of the Commonwealth Bank, Brian Hartzer of Westpac, Cindy Hook of Deloitte, and Andy Penn of Telstra — signed an open letter calling for the federal government to take action on marriage equality, Dutton attacked the CEOs singling out Joyce, who is in a long-term same sex relationship, saying it was “particularly galling” that the Qantas boss was spending “shareholders money, not in pursuit of a greater return on capital or a greater service for customers, but on a personal agenda.”

Joyce’s response evokes the axiom, often misattributed to Winston Churchill, who supposedly responded “Then what are we fighting for?” in response to a plan to cut arts funding to support the war effort.

Joyce said argued that CEOs “absolutely should” express views on social issues pointing to his company’s long track record on everything from charity flights for drought relief to awareness raising for homelessness and transporting volunteer firefighters around the country.

While a company’s first responsibility is to shareholders, “you’re automatically part of the community you operate in”, Joyce wrote.

“Society is your customer base. And just because there is money changing hands doesn’t mean it is only ever an economic transaction. There’s an implicit social contract between companies and communities – just ask any brand that has ever been on the receiving end of a boycott,” he continued.

The Qantas boss said the notion of a fair go was fundamental to the nation and his company.

“That’s why Qantas speaks up on gender equality. And recognising our Indigenous people. And for marriage equality. I have no doubt we’ll add to this list as time goes on,” he wrote.

“There is an economic argument for marriage equality, backed by research. In short, more open societies attract better talent.”

Joyce said one of Qantas was one of 200 Australian companies publicly supporting marriage equality “because we don’t think some people should have fewer rights than others”.

He finished with a rebuke of Dutton’s comments that business should stick to business, concluding “Qantas (and its CEO) is often called on to speak publicly on issues like company tax, industrial relations and trade. And we do. Because these are important issues that ultimately shape what kind of society we live in (which is the point of economics, right?)”.

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