Telstra CEO Andy Penn has taken to the company's internal message board to tell employees that while he understands its move away from explicit support for marriage equality in Australia may be "disappointing", he and Telstra management believe that it's now up to government to decide the matter.
Penn says the company's "diverse customer base" means the company should not get in the way of political "process", and that Telstra should "respect... personal views."
A post on Telstra's Yammer internal employee discussion board — effectively a Facebook for corporate staff — by the company's CEO Andy Penn says that "[Telstra's] position as a company has not changed." However, it goes on to say that, with the upcoming debate of the marriage equality plebiscite and the Federal election, Telstra is "not planning to further engage in the debate."
I understand the personal conviction you and others have on this issue — on both sides of the debate. As we have said publicly, our position as a company has not changed. What has changed is the Government has said it will hold a plebiscite to decide the outcome. There is also a federal election expected in the next 6 months. Now that the debate is at the table people will have a chance to have their say via those forums and that is why we are not planning to further engage on the debate, and let the government's process run its course. I recognise that will be disappointing to some people but as a company with a diverse workforce and a diverse customer base it is important that we respect their personal views, especially on sensitive matters such as this where those views are so wide-ranging.
Gizmodo understands that Telstra has been contacted by several customers sharing their support for the company's move to distance itself from the marriage equality debate. On Telstra's Facebook page, one commenter applauds the company for removing itself from any ongoing debate.
"To everyone complaining, Telstra is a telecommunications provider, not a political party. As a company that impacts on almost every single person in the country, taking a neutral stance is the best option."
Conversely, employees have been "overwhelmingly" speaking out against the change on Telstra's internal messaging system according to an internal source, with an upswell of support for the company's existing public stance in favour of marriage equality becoming clear.
A Telstra employee, speaking with Gizmodo on condition of anonymity, said "one big positive" of today's events was to see the company's employees come out in support of equality within its own ranks.
“Today is the first day in more than ten years working here I've ever felt ashamed. It's not the company I know and love and remember — something has changed and very recently and I wish I knew what it was so I could shine a spotlight on it. It would have felt wrong to talk the talk and not walk the walk on this.”
Penn's comments mirror those made in an official capacity by Telstra on its Exchange blog, where the company's statement does not mention the reported "strongly worded letter" from the Catholic Church, first reported by The Australian. In that missive, the Church's Sydney Archdiocese business manager Michael Digges expressed his and his organisation's "grave concern" with Telstra's corporate sponsorship of Australian Marriage Equality.
On its blog, Telstra says it "has a long tradition of supporting diversity and inclusion". It says its "position on the issue has not changed. We place great importance on diversity and standing against all forms of discrimination."
Popular LGBTQI news and current affairs website SameSame says it has had an outpouring of "furious" comments on its Facebook page against Telstra's actions. "What a shame to see Telstra buckle to homophobic boycott threats," it shared.
The traditionally-aligned Marriage Alliance, though, has said "thanks" to Telstra, and is encouraging its fans to leave messages of support. "We mustn't allow the '#MarriageEquality' bullies to reverse Telstra's decision," said the group.
Telstra's own Facebook page, at the moment, is a mix of comments on either side of the debate. Some commenters refer to the "rainbow Mafia" of marriage equality advocates, while others ask for information on canceling their contracts due to the change in stance.