In 1934 as managing director of BHP, Essington Lewis travelled to Japan, he was concerned that Japan was headed to war.
So on his return, Lewis immediately drew up plans for BHP to start stockpiling raw materials and to manufacture munitions to improve Australia’s defence.
By 1936, in cooperation with Holden and Orica, BHP formed the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation. By 1937, they were making planes at a factory in Melbourne.
Eventually, the Australian designed Wirraway warplane would be manufactured there.
Today we face similar threats to our nation’s defence given the aggressive conduct of the Chinese Communist Party. Who, however, among our nation’s corporate leaders would play a role like Essington’s in helping to bolster our nation’s defences?
An unremarked vulnerability of our nation now, compared to then, is the distinct lack of evident patriotism of our corporate sector. I would gamble that you are more likely to find rainbow flags flying in our nation’s corporate offices than Australian flags.
We need our corporate leaders back on Team Australia to help defend this country and all the benefits it has provided to our businesses.
I know that there are business leaders that are patriotic, that do worry about the threat of Chinese aggression. What we need though is more of these people to publicly shout their love of country so we can remove the unwarranted, social-media-driven stigma of being patriotic.
There is much talk in the corporate sector about the importance of Environmental, Social and Governance principles. An ESG approach seeks to put principles over profit. If companies are expected to prioritise the environment over profits, why shouldn’t they prioritise patriotism over profits too?
This would make business sense. Most large Australian companies have climate change plans. We are told these are in place to protect the viability of the business from the impacts of climate change. Yet, when I ask Australian companies whether they have a China plan, I normally get a blank response. But the risks and consequences of China triggering a conflict in our region are much greater than any impact of climate change, especially to those Australian businesses heavily reliant on iron ore for profits.
Instead of organising press conferences with Chinese government officials, our corporate leaders should develop plans to tackle the Chinese Communist Party.
All Australian companies have benefited from the generosity of the Australian government over the past year. I don’t expect companies to pay back JobKeeper directly, but indirectly there is a moral obligation for Australian companies to be part of a NationKeeper program that sees them invest in industries that can strengthen Australia’s defence capabilities.
With that in mind, Australian businesses could help Buy Back Australia. The Whyalla steel mill is in some difficulty at the moment. I would love to see an Australian mining company get back to steel making and buy it.
Why can’t our superannuation funds get together and create a consortium to buy back the Darwin, Newcastle and Melbourne ports from Chinese investors?
Essington Lewis made a habit of regularly visiting the mines and shop floors of his company. On one visit he asked an employee what the magnifying glass on the shadow board was for. The worker shot back to his boss with a brilliant mix of Aussie humour and contempt for authority, “that’s so I can see me pay”.
Our business leaders need to get off social media and spend more time with their workforces. There I am sure they will find people who want to defend our nation against Chinese aggression, whatever the cost to their jobs or livelihoods. Australia is worth the sacrifice.