One of the central tenets of liberalism is a belief in freedom of speech. IAN TULLOCH

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton: Argues the issue of marriage equality should be beyond the purview of company executives. Immigration MinisterPeter Dutton, the senior conservative in the Turnbull coalition government, and an arch opponent of same-sex marriage, has attacked the 30 listed company senior executives who have told the government to get on with legislating for marriage equality.

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In a speech to his Queensland LNP heartland, he argued that company executives have no legitimate right using the resources of their organisations to promote marriage equality, and presumably any other social or moral issue.

In particular, he singled out Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce for criticism. Joyce is an openly gay man and in what can easily be seen as a thinly veiled homophobic criticism of Joyce, he said that the senior executives should ‘stick to your knitting’.

This sort of rhetoric is not only deliberately offensive, but in a keynote speech, it takes on another more important meaning.

With Cory Bernardi now confined to the cross-bench and George Christensen also somewhat sidelined, Dutton appears increasingly emboldened to speak out on one of his pet topics. One suspects he is channelling Tony Abbott. Dutton’s arguments are both absurd and illogical.

First, he is arguing that public companies have no right to engage in important social and cultural debates, because, if they do, they are abusing their shareholder’s funds. This argument is so myopic as to be laughable.

There is a long history in this country and elsewhere of the corporate sector willingly contributing to public debate on an expansive range of issues.

While these contributions have generally been conservative in tenor, that has not always been the case.

Second, he has argued that the issue of marriage equality, because he sees it as essentially a moral issue, should be beyond the purview of company executives.

Pointedly, he said if you want to get political, become a politician. This argument is even more absurd than the first.

Companies should never be able to participate in public discourse over important policy matters, because they are misusing their shareholder’s funds if they do so? Prominent corporate leaders should not be engaged in political debates? They should never publicly express their political views? Think tax, think interest rates, think economic policy in general. Oh dear!

It would appear that Peter Dutton’s obsession with opposing marriage equality, and his determination to avoid any early parliamentary vote on the issue has clouded his commitment to liberalism.

One of the central tenets of liberalism is a belief in freedom of speech.

Perhaps Dutton, and others who support his view on this issue, should re-read John Stuart Mill’s famous dictum on freedom of speech.

Dutton was rebuked by Education Minister Simon Birmingham, who pointedly said, “…business leaders have often stepped ahead of legislators in supporting reforms relating to gender or racial equity. And I see no reason as to why business leaders are not free to do likewise when it comes to issues like marriage equality.”

How hypocritical is it that some in the Turnbull government want to either abolish or radically reform section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act, yet simultaneously want to place a gag on our corporate leaders who oppose some federal politicians own narrow moral views on marriage reform.

Ian Tulloch, Honorary Associate Politics, La Trobe University, Bendigo.