.

  • Written by Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

The Morrison government appears to be seething with anger at big business. At least, that’s the impression you get from a lecturing, hectoring speech delivered this week by Ben Morton, who’s assistant minister to the prime minister.

What is the beef? In a nutshell, that some big businesses have taken up “activist” issues, and that the coporates aren’t doing sufficient heavy lifting in selling (government) policies. Also, that big business is not relating enough to the “quiet Australians”.

Smaller businesses – seen as closer to and better communicators with these “quiet Australians - are viewed more kindly.

The speech came with the full prime ministerial imprimatur. Morton, one of Morrison’s inner circle, discussed it with the PM, who backed him in comments to The Australian.

What was particularly surprising was Morton’s tone – upbraiding, with more than a touch of arrogance.

Some extracts make the point.

ON supporting activist issues: "Business should not be seduced by the noisy elites, who try to bend business to their narrow viewpoints. Yet too often I see corporate Australia succumb or pander to similar pressures from noisy, highly orchestrated campaigns of elites typified by groups such as GetUp or activist shareholders.”

He instanced “engineering firm, Aurecon, which recently succumbed to activist pressure and cuts ties with Adani in line with its professed ‘sustainability commitments’. Whatever Aurecon’s successes on other fronts, expect to be called out by a government representing quiet Australians”.

ON the failure to be active enough in selling the policy agenda, he said: “With a few notable exceptions, in recent years corporate Australia has become increasingly silent (in their communications to their employees and the wider community) on those issues which will grow our economy, make Australia more productive and create more employment.

"Too often big businesses have been in the frontline on social issues, but missing in action when arguing for policies which would grow jobs and the economy.”

Then there was the blunt order: “Instruct your public affairs units. Instead of pretending you love paying tax or that you’re building electric cars rather than mining coal, or are in the solar panel rather than the oil or gas business, tell your employees and the quiet Australians in their communities what you can do for them.”

And this extraordinary statement: “I must admit to not speaking in parliament during the debate on reducing the company tax rate. While I obviously agree with reducing corporate tax, I felt that – with one or two notable exceptions - if corporate Australia wasn’t prepared to make the case for tax cuts, why should I?”

Business should pitch every idea or “demand” to government in terms of what was good for the “quiet Australians”, Morton said.

Of course, big business should think in terms of ordinary Australians – who are its customers. We only have to remember the banking royal commission to recall appalling lapses and the public’s disgust at them.

But Morton’s harangue against corporates for being too active on some fronts and not active enough on others says more about the government than about business.

While in some cases they are influenced by the views of executives or staff, large companies these days are inclined to take up social and environmental issues because they’re responding to what they see as community views - judged to be held much more widely than just by the so-called “elites”. (By the way, let’s not fall for any spin that the government isn’t part of the elite.)

Messages about sustainability, for example, reflect companies’ perceptions that climate change has become a huge issue that affects the way investors and consumers behave.

Companies that took a stand on same-sex marriage often saw themselves as aligning with community attitudes.

Big businesses have become more sensitive to their “social licence”. The upgrading of the importance of “social licence” reflects changing views in the society.

Activism is one of the drivers of attitudinal shifts, but not the only one. Whatever the forces at work, companies can’t afford to ignore prevailing sentiments when consumers may judge them, at least in part, on their broader stands.

As for Morton’s claim about businesses not promoting policies, this ignores some key points.

He underestimates the extent to which businesses have spruiked the need for reforms, including on tax.

Also, many big businesses these days do not want to be overtly political, especially international companies. They’ve become reluctant, for example, to give political donations.

Finally, while as Morton says “the Liberal Party is not the political wing of big business”, big business is not – and should not be - the corporate wing of the Liberal party. Maybe it saw itself like that once, but not now. Basically, it is up to the government and the Coalition parties to do their own selling.

Business is getting used to lectures from an antsy government. Recently Treasurer Josh Frydenberg gave it a gee-up, saying “My message today for business is to back yourself and use your balance sheet to invest and grow”.

There was a big difference, however, between the Morton and Frydenberg speeches. Frydenberg stuck to core issues and avoided being gratuitous.

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Read more http://theconversation.com/view-from-the-hill-morrisons-right-hand-man-dispenses-with-niceties-in-lecturing-big-business-123530

Is your horse normal? Now there’s an app for that

Vet: are you happy? Horse: neigh. evilgurl/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SASince ancient times, horse behaviour, and the bond between horses and humans, has been a source of intrigue and fascination. The horse-l...

Paul McGreevy, Professor of Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare Science, University of Sydney - avatar Paul McGreevy, Professor of Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare Science, University of Sydney

Small histories: a road trip reveals local museums stuck in a rut

Berry, and other tourist towns, are out of step with modern museum curation which is trying to include Aboriginal communities and their stories. ShutterstockAboriginal and Torres Strait Islander read...

Jen Saunders, Phd candidate, University of Wollongong - avatar Jen Saunders, Phd candidate, University of Wollongong

Curious Kids: how are stars made?

Stars come into existence because of a powerful force of nature called gravity. ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy SchmidtIf you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it...

Orsola De Marco, Astrophysicist , Macquarie University - avatar Orsola De Marco, Astrophysicist , Macquarie University

What is perimenopause and how does it affect women's health in midlife?

Perimenopause lasts months for some women, and years for others. from www.shutterstock.comAll women know to expect the time in life when their periods finish and they reach menopause. Many might even...

Gita Mishra, Professor of Life Course Epidemiology, Faculty of Medicine, The University of Queensland - avatar Gita Mishra, Professor of Life Course Epidemiology, Faculty of Medicine, The University of Queensland

Vital signs. Our compulsory super system is broken. We ought to axe it, or completely reform it

We're taking money from people, letting it fall through the cracks, and spending no less than we were on pensions. ShutterstockThe just-announced inquiry into Australia’s retirement income syste...

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW - avatar Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

Might consciousness and free will be the aces up our sleeves when it comes to competing with robots?

Our advantage lies in incommensurables, and it'll grow in importance. Franck V. on UnsplashThe rise of artificial intelligence has led to widespread concern about the role of humans in the workplaces ...

Allan McCay, Law Lecturer, University of Sydney - avatar Allan McCay, Law Lecturer, University of Sydney

Should I stay or should I go: how 'city girls' can learn to feel at home in the country

Shutterstock/The ConversationA move to the country is often presented in popular culture as an idyllic life, a place where you can escape the pressures of the city. It’s in television shows su...

Rachael Wallis, Lecturer and Honorary Research Fellow, University of Southern Queensland - avatar Rachael Wallis, Lecturer and Honorary Research Fellow, University of Southern Queensland

Grattan on Friday: Storm clouds avoid the bush, darken over the economy

National Farmers' Federation president Fiona Simson says she doesn't think the government has a drought policy. ShutterstockGovernment sources insist shock jock Alan Jones didn’t drive Thursday&...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Julianne Schultz appointed chair of The Conversation

Professor Julianne Schultz AM FAMA has been appointed chair of The Conversation Media Group, following the retirement of Harrison Young. Since becoming chairman in April 2017, Harrison has improved ...

Misha Ketchell, Editor & Executive Director, The Conversation - avatar Misha Ketchell, Editor & Executive Director, The Conversation

Cats are not scared off by dingoes. We must find another way to protect native animals

New research suggests feral cats can probably outsmart dingoes. Wikimedia/AAPFeral cats are wreaking havoc on our native wildlife, eating more than a billion animals across Australia every year. But ...

Bronwyn Fancourt, Adjunct Research Fellow, University of New England - avatar Bronwyn Fancourt, Adjunct Research Fellow, University of New England

Curious Kids: does chewing gum stay inside you for years?

Swallowing a lot of gum can cause it to stick together or stick to food in your gut. www.shuttershock.com, CC BYIf you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it to curiouskids@th...

Jerry Zhou, Lecturer, School of Medicine, Western Sydney University - avatar Jerry Zhou, Lecturer, School of Medicine, Western Sydney University

Don't believe your ears: 'enhancing' forensic audio can mislead juries in criminal trials

Audio used as evidence in criminal trials can often be unreliable.  Many criminal trials feature forensic evidence in the form of audio recordings, typically from bugging houses or cars, or intercep...

Helen Fraser, Adjunct Associate Professor, University of New England - avatar Helen Fraser, Adjunct Associate Professor, University of New England

The case for 'inclusion riders' in creative industries: what Australian discrimination law says about quotas

In March last year, Frances McDormand won the Academy Award for Best Actress. In her acceptance speech, she drew attention to the female nominees in the room and left them with two final words: &ldq...

Liam Elphick, Adjunct Research Fellow, Law School, University of Western Australia - avatar Liam Elphick, Adjunct Research Fellow, Law School, University of Western Australia

The Portal review: can meditation change the world?

The Portal uses individual stories of meditative transformation to suggest a bigger change is possible. SuppliedThe Portal follows six individuals who undergo a personal transformation from trauma an...

Peggy Kern, Associate professor, University of Melbourne - avatar Peggy Kern, Associate professor, University of Melbourne

Why white married women are more likely to vote for conservative parties

Women’s perceptions of 'gender linked fate' were contingent on two dimensions: their race and their marital status. ShutterstockThe polls were wrong in the last US and Australian federal electi...

Leah Ruppanner, Associate Professor in Sociology and Co-Director of The Policy Lab, University of Melbourne - avatar Leah Ruppanner, Associate Professor in Sociology and Co-Director of The Policy Lab, University of Melbourne

Thoughts and prayers: miracles, Christianity and praying for rain

In a speech in Albury last month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told his audience that he was praying for rain in drought-affected areas. “I pray for that rain everywhere else around the count...

Philip C. Almond, Emeritus Professor in the History of Religious Thought, The University of Queensland - avatar Philip C. Almond, Emeritus Professor in the History of Religious Thought, The University of Queensland

Prime Minister's science prizes awarded for algebra expertise, anti-cancer research and excellence in science teaching

Cheryl Praeger was awarded the 2019 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science. She has spent more than four decades inspiring a love for maths in others, and has created a vast body of academic work i...

Michael Hopkin, Science + Technology Editor, The Conversation - avatar Michael Hopkin, Science + Technology Editor, The Conversation

Curious Kids: is it OK to listen to music while studying?

Does music usually put you in a better mood? That might help you try a little bit harder and stick with challenging tasks. Shutterstock I am in year 11 and I like to listen to music when I am studyin...

Timothy Byron, Lecturer in Psychology, University of Wollongong - avatar Timothy Byron, Lecturer in Psychology, University of Wollongong

A requiem for Reformasi as Joko Widodo unravels Indonesia's democratic legacy

It’s deeply ironic that Indonesia’s third president, BJ Habibie, died on September 11 – less than a week before the national legislature passed a law that gutted the highly-regarded ...

Tim Lindsey, Malcolm Smith Professor of Asian Law and Director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society, University of Melbourne - avatar Tim Lindsey, Malcolm Smith Professor of Asian Law and Director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society, University of Melbourne

Sick and Tired of Your Dead End Job? Try Teaching!

Tired of the same old grind at the office? Want an opportunity to impact lives both in your community and around the world? Do you love to travel and have new experiences? Teaching English is the perfect job for you! All you need is a willingness to ...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Impact of an Aging Population in Australia

There’s an issue on the horizon that Australia needs to prepare for. The portion of elderly citizens that make up the country’s overall population is increasing, and we might not have the infrastructure in place to support this. Australians h...

News Company - avatar News Company

LifeStyle

Questions to ask yourself before buying your watch

There are more and more watches on the market. And more and more brands are trying to seduce consu...

How to Thoroughly Prepare Children for a Professional Photoshoot at a Studio

Children are only young for a moment, which is why, for a lot of parents, it's essential to take a...

What to Expect at the University of Florida Tour

The University of Florida is a dream college for most aspiring students. Not only because of its p...

7 Professions that Will Be Huge in the Next Decade

In order to embark on a career path that requires a lot of training and experience, you might ne...