CEDA national poll: Australians expect more from business than just profits



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A CEDA nationwide poll out today has shown that Australians expect a broad contribution from business, focused not just on the bottom line, but social and environmental performance as well.

The poll surveyed the general public and senior business leaders to examine community expectations of business and their views on the most important priorities for business.

The results include community views on ethical business behaviour, business leaders speaking on social and environmental issues and intergenerational differences regarding business priorities.

Commenting on CEDA’s Company Pulse 2019, CEDA Chief Executive Melinda Cilento said the report, based on a poll of more than 3000 people, found strong areas of alignment but also areas of disconnect.

Ms Cilento said considering recent public debate on the role of business, interestingly there were two clear results, which were that:

  • More than 70 per cent of the general public agreed that large companies should place equal importance on economic, environmental and social performance; and
  • More than three-quarters of survey respondents supported business leaders speaking out on issues of national importance, including social and environmental issues.
“While there has been much debate on the appropriateness of corporate leaders speaking on issues outside their core business, it is clear from these results the community consider this to be acceptable,” she said.

“This acceptance of a business voice on social and environmental issues was consistent across gender, age groups and locations from rural and regional Australia to our cities.”

However, Ms Cilento said less than 50 per cent of respondents thought that business leaders were speaking out in the national interest.

“Where business and national interest aligns this is not a problem, but this result highlights that there is probably more work to be done by business leaders to better explain their reasons for speaking out and demonstrate the link to the wider national interest if they want broader community support for their advocacy,” she said.

Ethical behaviour of large companies

Ms Cilento said that while the poll showed favourable perceptions of large company performance across several areas, the community still had some question marks around ethical behaviour of large companies.

“The community and business leaders agree that the public now has higher ethical standards for large companies, but there was less consensus on whether companies are behaving more ethically,” she said.

“Less than half of community respondents believe the ethical behaviour of large companies has improved, while 85 per cent of business leaders think large companies are now more ethical than they used to be.

“More than 80 per cent of business leaders also think it is harder for companies to get away with unethical behaviour, a view not shared by the majority of the general public.

“Interestingly where the general public and business leaders align is shared scepticism around the consequences of unethical conduct.

“Only 30 per cent of the general public and 42 per cent of business leaders believe the government takes strong action against unethical behaviour. Similarly, most believe that the consequences of a company acting unethically are modest or short term at best.”

Priorities for business

The survey also explored views on the priorities for business. On this, Ms Cilento said there was reasonable consensus across business leaders and the community on the priorities for business with eight of the top 10 most widely important issues being the same for both groups, although the order differed.

Business leaders placed the most importance on tailoring products and services to customer needs, shareholder returns and staff training. While the general public place the most importance on work/life balance for employees, quality products and staff well-being.

However, Ms Cilento said there were some important disconnects.

“Improving staff wages and bonuses and providing services at the lowest prices were both issues identified as being widely important to the community but not to business leaders,” she said.

“On the flip side of this, business leaders rated the importance of research and development (R&D) and investment in new technologies much more highly than the general public.

“The community’s focus on wages and cost of living is not surprising in a time of sluggish wage growth.

“The results suggest that business leaders are focused on the changes and investments that drive productivity, but the general public are not connecting investment and productivity improvements to benefits to them through wages or lower prices.

“This is concerning, as higher productivity is needed to help drive sustainable wage growth, and R&D and investments in technology will be vital for underpinning Australia’s future prosperity.”

Intergenerational differences

In addition to showing differences in priorities between the community and business leaders, the report also highlighted intergenerational differences.

Millennials believe top priorities for business should be the environment, ethical supply chains and work/life balance for employees. While baby boomers believe top priorities for business should be quality products, pay small businesses promptly and also work/life balance for employees.

Supporting a reform agenda

“CEDA has undertaken this work to better understand community expectations against the backdrop of declining trust in business and the need to reignite a reform agenda in Australia,” she said.

“We need a reinvigorated reform agenda that will support new investment and opportunities for economic and social development in Australia.

“For reforms to be supported and successful they will need to reflect the insights and needs of all sectors, including business. However, negative community sentiment and lack of trust in the business sector could act as a handbrake on reforms in the national interest.

“A vibrant and competitive business sector is vital to enabling the development and adoption of new technologies that will secure future opportunities for investors, employees and customers. Equally, benefits such as improved government services and infrastructure rely on a resilient revenue base supported by a strong business sector paying taxes and playing its part.

“The community and business need to be on the same page if we are to progress policy reform that will deliver benefits to both.

“Our survey shows that there are strong areas of alignment around which trust in business can be rebuilt, particularly if the points of disconnect identified become a focus for serious consideration and engagement.”


Further information:

Melinda Cilento is available for further comment and interviews. The report can be downloaded here.

The launch of this report will be followed by events across Australia on the following dates:

Brisbane – 26 September | Perth and Sydney – 2 October | Melbourne and Adelaide – 3 October

CEDA’s report is the result of a survey of the community and business leaders conducted in July and August 2019 on expectations of business.

Media contacts:

Roxanne Punton, Director, External Affairs
Mobile: 0409 532 287 | Email: roxanne.punton@ceda.com.au

Eleanor Green, Media and Communications Advisor
Mobile: 0408 375 600 | Email: eleanor.green@ceda.com.au

CEDA – the Committee for Economic Development of Australia – is an independent, not-for-profit membership organisation. We identify policy issues that matter for Australia’s future and pursue solutions that deliver better economic, social and environmental outcomes for Australia.

CEDA's cross-sector membership of 770 spans every state and territory and includes Australia's leading businesses, community organisations, government departments and academic institutions.

CEDA was founded in 1960 by leading economist Sir Douglas Copland. His legacy of applying economic analysis to practical problems to aid the development of Australia continues to drive our work today.