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Dealing with Voice to Parliament worries in the workplace

By Jack Campbell | |5 minute read

The Voice to Parliament referendum has officially passed Senate and will happen before the end of the year.

This decision has sparked much debate. For employees, navigating touchy subjects can be daunting, as politics can often cause disagreements.

Michael Byrnes, partner at Swaab, discussed why we are seeing issues arise and how to deal with any stress they bring.


Lawyers Weekly: “Why is it necessary for us to examine the employer implications of taking a stance on the Voice to Parliament referendum?”

Michael Byrnes: “I can see this issue emerging where employees might have a different view to their employers about the Voice. As the debate continues, as the issue becomes increasingly prominent, as we approach the referendum later in the year, I can see this becoming a bit of a flashpoint in employment law and in the employment sphere generally.”

“I can see this becoming a source of potential tension between an employee’s right to express their view, whatever that might be for or against the Voice, expressing that, and the position adopted by their employer,” explained Mr Byrnes.

“I think this notion of businesses stating a position on a political issue, a social issue. That’s something that’s relatively new, and it’s part of the increasing prominence given to environmental, social and governance concerns. I think it’s a good thing, and it’s good that organisations are progressive and trying to further societal objectives and societal aims, but companies, employers adopting that stance does potentially put employees who have a different view and want to express that view or even advocate that alternative view in a difficult position.”

Lawyers Weekly: “Why do you think employers have decided to take a stance on the Voice to Parliament?”

Mr Byrnes: “It aligns with that idea of companies being good corporate citizens. Of companies looking to make a contribution beyond revenue, beyond profit business success, into broader society and community. I also think it is, for some businesses, it’s very good brand alignment. It is consistent with their brand values and the reputation they want to build and develop.”

He continued: “For those businesses supporting the no case. I suspect, and this is a generalisation, it’s driven more by the owner’s own personal view rather than perhaps broader corporate or business objectives. I’m not saying that makes it illegitimate in any way, but I suspect that’s the imperative for those corporates and those businesses involved in the no case.”

Lawyers Weekly: “Should employees consider the fact that they will increasingly be asked to tow that line and go along with whatever social or political viewpoints their employer might be expressing?”

Mr Byrnes: “What employees need to do is they certainly shouldn’t be so malleable that they mould their own views to those of the employer. I think employees should be entitled and should express or develop their own independent thoughts.”

“They may well want to consider the position put by the employer and its merits or otherwise, but there’s no reason why they need to slavishly adopt that position for themselves,” he said.

Lawyers Weekly: “Are there worries that if I don’t get on board with my employer’s position on the Voice or any other issue that I’ll be overlooked for a pay rise or a promotion?”

Mr Byrnes: “Very much so. That issue can certainly arise where there might be a tacit pressure on employees to toe the line … There are laws against discrimination on the basis of political opinion or political belief in some states, but not all states.”

He concluded: “That might cover something like this, where an employee refuses to participate in a particular activity because they say it’s contrary to their genuinely held beliefs about a political matter.”

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Michael Byrnes, click below:

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.