Michael Barnett and Marriage equality advocate IBM Australia is being targeted by militant gay rights activists who have condemned the company over a senior executive’s links to a Christian organisation.
Activists have criticised the IT giant and Sydney-based managing partner Mark Allaby, suggesting that his role on the board of the Lachlan Macquarie Institute, an internship program for young Christians, is incompatible with IBM’s public support on the issue.
The social media campaign comes after the same activists shamed Adelaide brewer Coopers into pledging allegiance to Australian Marriage Equality after its ties with the Bible Society were exposed.
Greens candidate Rod Swift. Picture: Mark Dadswell
Michael Barnett, convener of Jewish LGBTI support group Aleph Melbourne, and Rod Swift, a Greens candidate in the 2014 state election, have targeted IBM with a barrage of messages via Twitter in recent days, accusing the company of hypocrisy for allowing an employee to be involved with “an anti-LGBTI organisation”.
“A bad look … that IBM managing partner Mark Allaby sits on the anti-LGBT Lachlan Macquarie Institute board,” Mr Barnett posted on Thursday.
The next day he followed with: “As an LGBT champion @IBMAustralia, why did you employ a board member of a high-profile anti-LGBT organisation.”
Mr Swift pitched in, calling on IBM to explain whether it would “request this guy to step down” from the institute.
“If you are having a bet each way @IBMDiversityANZ then you must justify to your staff and customers why your guy is on their board,” he wrote.
It is not the first time Mr Allaby, a fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors who handles IBM’s financial services clients across Australia and New Zealand, has been targeted for his association with a religious organisation.
Last year, when employed by PricewaterhouseCoopers, he was pressured into standing down from the board of the Australian Christian Lobby, which opposes changes to marriage law.
Both PwC and IBM are active supporters of Australian Marriage Equality, and their chief executives were among 20 corporate leaders to sign an unprecedented letter lobbying Malcolm Turnbull to legalise same-sex marriage, revealed in The Australian last week.
The letter has sparked heated debate about the role of business in lobbying on social issues, with conservative frontbencher Peter Dutton telling business leaders to “stick to their knitting”.
However, the increasingly aggressive tactics being employed by some marriage equality activists has highlighted the risks for corporations — and their employees — in taking a position on divisive political causes.
Leading anti-discrimination lawyer Mark Fowler said employees with religious beliefs in conflict with their employers’ stand on marriage equality were particularly exposed. “In NSW and SA there are currently no laws protecting individuals from expressing their religious beliefs,” Mr Fowler said. “Nor are there religious protections for individuals under commonwealth laws.”
Australian Christian Lobby managing director Lyle Shelton said the ACL, which helped set up the Lachlan Macquarie Institute, denied that the organisation was “anti-LGBTI”.
“Quite frankly we are tired of this slur being used to intimidate people because of their beliefs,” Mr Shelton said. “Corporate Australia is obviously free to have and express views on political matters.
“Sadly, same-sex marriage activists are intolerant of different views and have co-opted some in the corporate sector to assist them in enforcing this to the point where people fear for their jobs.
“All Australians, including corporate Australia, should openly and forcefully condemn every instance of bullying and intimidation.”
Mr Barnett defended his role yesterday, arguing that when an organisation such as IBM employed an individual in a high-profile leadership role who did not espouse company values, a disparity emerged.
“I have no desire to see IBM sack Mark Allaby. I want the conflict to go away,” Mr Barnett told The Australian.
“Mark Allaby can make whatever decisions he needs to resolve this conflict, and if IBM needs to assist with that process then they can do that.
“My goal is to see IBM, and any other pro-LGBTIQ organisation, remain strong to their stated values.”
Mr Barnett said he had nothing against Mr Allaby personally but his links with the Australian Christian Lobby meant he was a “target for equality campaigners like me”.
IBM did not respond to questions about whether staff were free to engage with external organisations, including religious groups, outside of their employment with the company. “We will not be responding on this,” an IBM spokeswoman said. Mr Allaby, who lives in Sydney, did not return calls.
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