Corporate ‘philanthropy’ or real disaster relief?

March 15, 2022
Appeals are being made for everything, this one for books to be donated to the Lismore City Library. Photo: @gavingavinf/Twitter

Harvey Norman opened its doors in Lismore on March 12 for the first time since the floods devastated the town.

The corporation can expect to make handsome profits since large numbers of households need to replace white goods, furniture and other household items.

Much of this will be fuelled by federal government subsidies (rightly) paid out to those affected by the disaster.

This is the same Harvey Norman that infamously received $22 million from the public purse in 2020 via JobKeeper, despite increasing its profits that year by more than 75% to almost $1.2 billion.

Under pressure, Harvey Norman eventually handed back $6 million — less than one third of the amount it received.

Corporate spin doctors, such as Business Council of Australia (BCA) chief executive Jennifer Westacott, are trying to make out that Harvey Norman and other big companies are good corporate citizens.

They have set up a “charity” to help small businesses recover from disasters, like this flood and, taking a leaf out of Peter Dutton’s book, they are asking for public contributions.

While claiming an “altruistic” element to their support, Westacott acknowledged its explicit aim is to help business. It’s also a laundering operation for the reputations of big business members of the BCA.

Coles, a BCA member, boastfully handed over a $700,000 cheque to the Red Cross flood appeal on March 12. It is promising to match, dollar for dollar, donations made by Coles’ customers and staff.

Ordinary people give generously and a corporate giant claims the credit.

Coles' media release also claims additional “efforts” including daily deliveries of a full “16 cartons of fruit … and 60 loaves of bread to Lismore”.

Lismore resident and former councillor Eddie Lloyd is not falling for the con. Far from “corporate social responsibility”, she believes its further proof that “big corporations [are] continuing to make money out of disasters”.

Lloyd told Green Left that many small businesses will struggle to survive. The latest floods are another disaster, coming on the back of the 2017 floods and the COVID-19 lockdowns.

She said individuals and families are running GoFundMe campaigns to save their houses. She cited a friend who could not afford the $30,000 a year charged by the insurance company and ended up losing their home.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has deliberately played down the amount of support communities can expect from the federal government. While he said locals will always be at the “centre” of flood rescue and recovery efforts, he is not keen on boosting the resources of the volunteer-led emergency services.

Fire and emergency services chiefs have called out the government for failing to be better prepared for the floods, given the warnings the government had received.

They know there will be more disasters like this because the climate crisis is getting worse.

Instead of handing over $10 billion a year in corporate welfare to the fossil fuel corporations, we need public investment in publicly-owned renewable energy projects.

Instead of lowering community expectations, governments must be pro-active in building disaster response resources.

Instead of allowing big corporations to pretend their small donations are some giant act of philanthropy, they should be properly taxed to generate the disaster funds that are required.

This is a more than feasible plan. Green Left will never stop exposing the corporate lies and pushing the people-powered movement to achieve it. If you like our work, please become a supporter today and make a donation to our $200,000 Fighting Fund.

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