Scandal after scandal: Is corporate Australia facing moral bankruptcy?

Business leaders, just like politicians, have shown an alarming arrogance in the face of corporate scandals. It’s time many companies checked the packaging on their executives for a use-by date.

Sep 04, 2023, updated Sep 04, 2023
Outgoing Qantas CEO Alan Joyce. (Photo: AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi)

Outgoing Qantas CEO Alan Joyce. (Photo: AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi)

Moral blindness is how research company Roy Morgan termed the scandals enveloping companies and sadly there are no guide dogs for this.

After decades of covering Australia’s corporates I can’t remember a time when they have acted so appallingly.

It’s not just Qantas either. There has been a conga line of companies that have had their scandals aired publicly. PwC, Optus, Rio Tinto, the banks, insurers and let’s not forget the churches of different shades and the great scandals that have hit media companies, particularly News Corp and its phone hacking.

The public can’t vote out corporate leaders like they can politicians and that’s why many stay too long.

Because that’s the case, the public is showing a remarkable lack of trust in leadership. Not surprising, considering the evidence that has come out against the corporations which must make their marketing people consider easier jobs, like promoting cigarettes.

Roy Morgan, which surveys the public regularly on this question said: “The poor behaviour of many of the economy’s corporate leaders reveals a moral blindness to what is ethical and in the community’s interest rather than solely in the shareholders’ interest.”

Its survey released last week showed that Australians had never been more distrusting of corporate Australia.

“Since 2020, the poor behaviour of corporate Australia under the cover of Covid has led to dramatically soaring distrust, not only for individual brands but for the entire economy,’’ Roy Morgan said.

The company pulled a few quotes from people they surveyed.

“Corrupt; too much access to power has gone to their collective head; seem to have no mechanisms for maintaining integrity.”

“The CEO is a disgusting greedy individual, who is a poor employer, makes use of people, governments and society for his own personal aggrandisement.”

I wonder who they were talking about. Take your pick, really.

Three years after the Juukan Gorge debacle, Rio Tinto still ranks highly on the distrust scale, which shows how disastrous these fiascos can be to a brand.

Optus managed to become the most distrusted brand of the last financial year, which is a significant achievement considering the companies it was up against.

It was the first time Facebook/Meta didn’t rank first. You would have to question your strategy if you’re worse than Facebook.

The PwC scandal just proved to middle Australia that the game is rigged, that the big end of town have it sown up.

Is it just a function of poor behaviour? Maybe, because there is certainly enough it about, but trust in our institutions has been falling for years.

Those in the Baby Boomer generation could probably still recall the days when banks, churches and business held a certain level of respect and forebearance.

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Not anymore.

Last week, former advertising guru Phillip Adams said he had revoked Qantas’s right to use the motto Spirit of Australia, which he devised years ago.

He said the airline had a “spirit of greed and cynicism’’. It’s fairly hard to argue with that assessment.

The outgoing Allan Joyce has to take a fair measure of blame. The arrogance is staggering.

Just remember the latest Qantas blows are not the full story. Remember when Alan Joyce shut down the airline over an industrial dispute? Or when he blamed the public for not being travel fit when all the stuff ups occurred as travel started resuming.

Or the massive taxpayer handouts it received during Covid and refuses to pay back despite its recent $2.5 billion profit.

The latest though … the ghost flights and the multi-million dollar bonuses, really speak volumes about Qantas and how.

Years ago, I decided to never buy James Hardie products because of its appalling treatment of its workers and shareholders.

It was a pretty easy ban to maintain but then came all wage theft revelations and I thought I should ban companies that ripped off their workforce or the public.

It’s not an easy ban anymore.


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