Australian business leaders are pushing back against Peter Dutton's 'stick to your knitting' rebuke

Paula Dwyer. Source: Tabcorp

Business leaders are starting to fight back against Turnbull government minister Peter Dutton’s attack telling them to butt out of social issues and “stick to the knitting” of business following an open letter signed by 20 senior CEOs calling for the federal government to take action on marriage equality.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce responded yesterday saying “there’s an implicit social contract between companies and communities” that creates an obligation for the leaders of companies like his to speak out, and today ANZ director Paula Dwyer backed him saying the open letter was “an appropriate place to land”.

ANZ CEO Shayne Elliott, alongside fellow big bank bosses Ian Narev of the CBA, Brian Hartzer of Westpac, signed the open letter, along with Telstra’s Andy Penn.

Dwyer, who chairs the boards of Healthscope and Tabcorp, as well as being a director at Lion, has just received a major business leadership award when she sat down this week to discuss speaking out with BlueNotes managing editor Andrew Cornell.

Her comments come a day after the Turnbull government said it wanted to change to the Racial Discrimination Act in the name of free speech.

“The community is demanding more of their business leaders and expects them to model behaviour which is constructive for all of society,” she said.

“The role of commerce has to be balanced with the role of companies in the community and part of that is how people behave and act, and what they value.”

Dywer said she was a civil libertarian who believed in freedom of speech and the right of people to marry whomever they wish, but acknowledged “I don’t think I can impose that view on the body corporate”.

The CEOs did not use their company names in the open letter, however, Dwyer said those names carried weight “because of organisations they’re associated with”.

“We should expect our leaders to be decent people doing the right thing – and be held to account for it,” she said.

“People who put their hands up for leadership attract attention and it can be on behalf of the organisation they represent, but they are accountable.”

Watch her interview here:

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