When I was a teenager, my mates and I watched the Rollerball movie. In its dystopian world of the then-distant future of 2018, nations had gone bankrupt and ceased to exist.
The population was controlled by a number of corporations that owned and provided everything; as the chairman of one put it: “a few of us making decisions on a global basis for the common good”.
These corporations dictated people’s lives: what jobs they did, their recreation and entertainment — and even allocated their spouses and lovers. People were controlled and surveilled, with no free will or individual thought permitted.
The population was kept subdued by a generous supply of “happy pills” and distracted by the violent gladiator-like sport of Rollerball. The lead character, Jonathan E., is a Rollerball captain and star player, provided with a privileged life by the team’s corporate sponsor which also controls him — and in the past had “reallocated” his wife to one of its executives who wanted her.
When he resists the corporation’s direction to retire, the chairman tells him: “Corporate society takes care of everything. And all it asks of anyone, all it has ever asked of anyone, ever, is not to interfere with management decisions … this is for your own benefit.”
Jonathan refuses, and the corporation sets out to destroy him. It was fiction, but reflecting on it, it seems life is imitating art.
Corporations are telling us what we should believe and destroying people’s careers and life if they don’t stick to the company line. In the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen two clear examples of corporates venturing into people’s private lives to control what they believe is the right way to think.
The first is the forced resignation of Andrew Thorburn as CEO of the Essendon Football Club because of his role as a congregant and executive of an Anglican church group, City on a Hill.
Ten years ago, the church’s founding pastor gave a sermon where he suggested that, in the future, people will look back in disgust at practices taking place in abortion clinics in the same way we today look back in disgust at the brutality in concentration camps. (He has since apologised for that analogy.)
He has also given sermons where he argued marriage should be between a man and a woman and that homosexual people should remain celibate (as well as saying that Christians should love all people, including those who act in ways they disagree with).
These are positions of personal morality that many people don’t share, and some people may even find abhorrent. But they are just that: personal moral positions, based on religious faith. Essendon has no idea whether Thorburn shares these views.
Even if he does, in his role as a corporate executive over many years he has never sought to impose or advocate these views in the organisations he has worked for. Quite the opposite. When Thorburn was CEO of NAB, the company actively supported same-sex marriage and sponsored LGBT culture and sporting events.
Thorburn lost his job because of his membership of a church. It was guilt by association and clear discrimination on the basis of religious faith; despite the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities and Racial and Religious Tolerance Act which protects freedom of thought, conscience, religion and association as fundamental human rights.
Last weekend, Nick Cater, writing in the Australian, revealed an email from a prominent professional services firm to its employees calling for an Indigenous “Voice” to be embedded in the constitution and inviting them to a 90-minute training session to educate them on the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
This firm is like many corporations to have publicly come forward to say they’ll advocate for the Voice. The message was loud and clear: a vote for the Voice is the right thing to do and staff are expected to toe the line.
I haven’t heard any of these corporates explain what the Voice is or what it will achieve; how it proposes to lift disadvantaged Indigenous people out of poverty, deliver economic prosperity or end violence and abuse that plagues a number of Indigenous communities; nor even how it will better inform government decision-making or policy.
The Voice is about Indigenous people. If corporates are running education programs on the Voice, will staff hear only from advocates or will they also hear from the many Aboriginal people who don’t agree with the movement’s premise and don’t believe it reflects our cultures?
Probably not, because woke corporates seem determined to campaign for the Voice whether the majority of Indigenous people like it or not. Corporates have decided to become the moral compass and political arbiters for their staff and customers.
They are trying to control the thinking, and dictate their personal moral views and political positions via the clear threat that people can lose their jobs — or the provision of goods and services — if they don’t toe the line and share the organisation’s “values”. All of this is for their own benefit, of course.
Ironically, in railing against religious and political freedom, corporates are emulating the worst of the historical institutional social control practiced by religious organisations pursuing their values.
The Aboriginal missions were started by churches wanting to do good, including to provide a safe haven for Aboriginal people to protect them from violence and killings. This aspect of the origin of missions reflected genuine good intention.
The missions grew into the Aboriginal protection regimes, so-called bureaucratic control for our own benefit, controlling all aspects of Indigenous lives: regulating movement, controlling finances (including confiscating wages), allowing the removal of children at will and enforcing segregation.
The churches were once the elites and powerful – the moral arbiters of society. Now it’s the corporates. And you better get in line.
Nyunggai Warren Mundine is Director of the Indigenous Forum at the Centre for Independent Studies.
Photo: United Artists