Qantas CEO Joyce defends speaking up for marriage equality

Qantas chief executive officer Alan Joyce speaking during a press conference in Sydney, on Feb 23, 2017.
Qantas chief executive officer Alan Joyce speaking during a press conference in Sydney, on Feb 23, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG) - Alan Joyce, the chief executive officer of Qantas Airways, defended his support for marriage equality in Australia, rejecting criticism from a government minister who said CEOs shouldn't use their position to campaign on social issues.

"There is an economic argument for marriage equality, backed by research," Joyce said in an opinion piece published on the carrier's website on Tuesday (March 21). "In short, more open societies attract better talent."

Joyce was among a group of more than 30 business leaders, including the CEOs of Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Telstra, who last week petitioned Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to introduce legislation on same-sex marriage. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton singled out Joyce for criticism at the weekend, and said company executives shouldn't campaign using their "official capacity and with shareholders' money."

Opinion polls show a majority of Australians support same-sex marriage, yet previous efforts to legalize such unions have failed in parliament. While Turnbull supports marriage equality, many lawmakers in his Liberal-National coalition are opposed.

Turnbull sought to let the electorate decide the issue last year with a public vote. The main opposition Labor Party blocked the so-called plebiscite, saying it would be divisive and lead to persecution of gay people. It is instead pressing the government to put the matter straight to parliament.

"Qantas' identity is the spirit of Australia, and one of the most fundamental values in this country is the notion of a fair go," said Joyce, who has publicly said he is gay. "That's why Qantas speaks up on gender equality. And recognizing our indigenous people. And for marriage equality. I have no doubt we'll add to this list as time goes on."

Joyce noted that he'd often been called on as Qantas CEO to speak publicly on issues such as company tax, industrial relations and trade.

"And we do," Joyce said. "Because these are important issues that ultimately shape what kind of society we live in, which is the point of economics, right? We're pleased to include marriage equality on the list."