Posted on June 21, 2023

Australia’s Top Companies Back Indigenous Voice as Public Support Wavers

Byron Kaye et al., Reuters, June 15, 2023

Some of Australia’s biggest companies, including miners, banks and retailers, are emerging as powerful sources of support for a campaign to recognise the country’s Indigenous people in the constitution, a development that could sway the outcome of a referendum later this year.

The advocacy of BHP, Rio Tinto, Woodside Energy, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and others helps Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, whose center-left Labor government backs the change, and puts the opposition conservatives, who are urging a “No” vote, at odds with sections of their traditional base.

The referendum, which comes amid a wider reckoning over race relations, proposes to change the constitution and establish an advisory body called the Indigenous Voice to Parliament to give Indigenous Australians a direct say in policies that affect them.

An exclusive Reuters poll of Australia’s 30 largest listed companies conducted in May and June found that seven of the top 10, with a combined market value of A$830 billion ($552.1 billion), endorsed the proposal. Five of those polled were funding or planned to fund the “Yes” campaign, while none endorsed nor were contributing to “No”.

“The referendum as a whole will obviously depend on multiple factors but money will have a significant amount of influence” on the outcome, said Intifar Chowdhury, associate lecturer at Australian National University’s school of politics and international relations.


Support for the referendum, likely to be held between October and December, appears to be ebbing. A poll published by Nine Entertainment this week showed “No” ahead for the first time, 51% to 49%.


Corporate backing for the Voice reflects an emphasis on environmental, social, and governance considerations, also evident in businesses’ support for same-sex marriage in a 2017 plebiscite.


Opponents have pushed back. Peter Dutton, leader of the opposition Liberal party, who did not respond to a request for comment, said in April that companies were “craving popularity on social media by signing up to every social cause”.


Voice supporters have raised tens of millions of dollars and plan to ramp up campaigning in coming weeks. The money will pay for TV and social media advertising, as well as banners, merchandise and on-the-ground campaign efforts through community events, a “Yes23” campaign spokesperson told Reuters.

A spokesperson for Fair Australia, the group leading the “No” campaign, said shareholders “should be asking why directors are wasting their money campaigning to divide Australia by race”.


Changing the constitution requires majorities nationwide and in four of six states — a threshold Australia has achieved eight times in 44 attempts. Surveys show weaker support in the mining states of Queensland and Western Australia.