Responding to Qantas’ recommendation that a shareholder resolution regarding deportations to danger be voted down at its AGM in October, Brynn O’Brien, Executive Director, ACCR said: “This ‘head in the sand’ approach by Qantas will ring alarm bells for their investors. We have already commenced briefings of their investor base and there is significant concern about the lack of sophistication of this response. If this position carries into the AGM, we expect that there will be a strong vote against the Qantas board’s recommendation.
“Companies should not trust the Australian government’s assurances that the human rights of asylum seekers have been upheld. More often than not, the opposite is true. Companies, not governments, are best placed to assess business risk. In this case, the risk is too great, and the return far, far too small.
“Shareholders are concerned that Qantas lacks an in-depth understanding of the risk matrix here. This includes the real possibility of escalating protest activity, and the undermining of human rights commitments they have voluntarily made. Qantas fail to appreciate the stark deficiencies in Australian law; the legislative limitations on our judicial processes render them wholly inadequate in upholding fundamental rights.
“It is untenable for a company to say they care about human rights in one breath, and in the next double down on their commitment to work hand in glove with the Australian government in deporting people to danger.
“In no way does Qantas, a commercial airline, managing business risk by screening certain contracts “undermine the judicial process.” Frankly, this argument is as flimsy as it is cynical. It is open to the Australian government to find other forms of transportation, as they do on routes that commercial airlines do not fly. There is no legal compulsion for Qantas to do this work; it is a commercial consideration. The business decisions of a company have nothing to do with the integrity of Australia's judicial system.
“Qantas has made a significant misstep here, and we would welcome the opportunity to meet with CEO Alan Joyce to develop his understanding of the serious issues at hand.”
The role of companies in Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees has been the subject of high profile financial sector campaigning in the past. The ‘No Business in Abuse’ campaign saw HESTA divest $23 million from Broadspectrum (then known as Transfield) over its offshore detention centre contracts. The campaign ended in a hostile takeover of Broadspectrum by Spanish multinational Ferrovial, which announced its exit of detention centres contracts as soon as the takeover was finalised.
ACCR’s resolution (pg 15) and supporting statement (pg 21-23) are included in the Notice of Meeting available at https://www.asx.com.au/asxpdf/20180831/pdf/43xxv01yh2dt6c.pdf