Statements by Senators – Environmental and Social Governance, Wednesday 15 November, 2023

Senator BABET (Victoria—United Australia Party Whip) (13:21): Today I’d like to talk about ESG. When companies talk about ESG, consumers and shareholders should walk away as quickly as possible. That’s because ESG is code for something: ‘wasting company money on elitist woke agendas that have nothing to do with producing value for shareholders’. ESG stands for environmental, social and governance. The idea is that, instead of making the best product possible or providing the best service at the lowest possible cost for the maximum amount of return for shareholders, money instead gets wasted on woke environmental, social or corporate governance gestures. A perfect example is the failed Voice to Parliament referendum. Many of Australia’s biggest companies backed the Voice, including the big four banks, Westpac, Commonwealth, NAB and ANZ; the major resource companies, BHP, Rio Tinto, Woodside and Origin; Qantas, which put Yes23 logos on its planes; and Telstra, which donated generously to the campaign. Sport is also big business in Australia. We all know that. We had the AFL, the NRL, Rugby Australia, Football Australia, Netball Australia, Tennis Australia and Cricket Australia also backing the Voice. The CEOs and boards of all these companies didn’t even bother to find out whether the Australian people or, more importantly, their shareholders thought the Voice was a good idea. They just spent shareholder money anyway.

Spending company money in this way is fundamentally wrong. Why should the woke elites on the boards of these companies get such an outsized influence on the future of our nation? If these boards had any integrity at all, which they don’t, they would dip into their own pockets to virtue-signal. But don’t hold your breath. Corporates, just like big governments, prefer to spend other people’s money rather than their own. They’re always happy to spend investors’ money while giving themselves a pat on the back and collecting a hefty bonus cheque each year. The best way that companies can contribute to society is by making the goods and services that we need at the lowest possible cost. How about that instead? Then each of us can go and spend our own money to contribute to the causes and charities of our choice, to make the world a better place as we see fit. It is not the job of companies to spend shareholder money on woke ideology. It is the job of companies to make money for their shareholders—nothing more. I thought that was common sense, but I guess it’s not.

ESG, like most virtuous and antidemocratic initiatives, started out as a voluntary commitment. We know that it will not end there. Do you recall the voluntary COVID vaccine? We know how that ended. Laws may eventually be proposed that will enforce ESG requirements on Australian businesses. ESG is another tool in the kitbag of all sorts of activists, like the climate alarmists who blindly and irrationally push the unachievable and, frankly, mad agenda of net zero. An example of ESG gone mad is this: the big banks are refusing to lend money for projects that are not aligned with their ESG agenda, like coal and gas projects, or they are dictating to farmers how they can and can’t use their land. That’s what they’re doing right now as criteria for getting finance.

ESG is an attack on our way of life, and it’s a way for unelected globalist organisations, like Blackrock and Vanguard and all the rest, to go around the government and push their own agenda. Ultimately, it’s about control. ESG is about control. We know that our Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, intends to remake capitalism. That’s what he said. Well, Treasurer, capitalism can soon become communism when you throw in just a bit of ESG on the top. The only problem with communism is that it results in centralised power, poverty and starvation for the masses—not the elite; they’ll be just fine. Everyday Australians can see through the ESG agenda. We can see how ESG is nothing less than a wealth transfer to the global elites. Forget your ESG dream, it is time to deregulate, remove legislative barriers, reduce taxation and inspire a generation of Australian entrepreneurs. Virtue doesn’t pay the bills. Virtue won’t save our nation. The only way to do that is through hard work and less government.