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2017 Year in Review: Corporate Communications in Australia

November 1, 2017
By Anna Whitlam

There certainly has been plenty to interest and perplex Australia’s corporate communications professionals in 2017.

Front and centre was ongoing media and political attention on the big banks. The ongoing question (and subsequent confirmation) of a full royal commission saw the ABA strengthen its team with some heavy political campaigning experience including relationships on both sides of the political fence. Meanwhile in-house teams and specialised outside counsel kicked into high gear to support their CEO’s as they began regular standing appearances before parliamentary committee.

Meanwhile a new levy announced in the May budget, followed by a parallel commitment by South Australia has prompted a coordinated sector response, including drawing on some of the experience of the historic mining tax campaign. In Canberra the focus remains on the ongoing commitment of the opposition and some minor party MPs to a full royal commission. Meanwhile we can expect a strong ground game opposing any state based levy in South Australia.

One by one the banks are getting back on message after settling claims against them by various regulators. CBA bore the very public brunt of AUSTRAC’s public revelations with significant focus at the executive and board level. Meanwhile its results continue to lead the pack underscoring investor and customer confidence in the institution.

How the bank balances these contradictory public faces will likely define its 2018.

Meanwhile AusPost was dragged into the public spotlight via Canberra after its CEO’s salary was made public. Almost immediately the public position seemed to fix around the overall pay packet, with little or no consideration of the context or success of the business in what is a massively disrupted sector. Despite outstanding relations with government on both sides of the aisle and in every state and territory, the team at AusPost had little opportunity to reshape the concrete once public opinion was set. The resulting CEO transition will surely have influenced the crafting of public messaging and positioning for CEO remuneration across the nation’s boardrooms and by their corporate communications teams.

Politics also kept on giving in 2017.

A sequence of process issues has continued to rob the Government of oxygen. Despite delivering significant reform programs in education funding and the national energy guarantee, the successes of the government have been overshadowed by the ongoing constitutional citizenship issue headache. This issue is one that has stung across political and party lines, taking down independents, major parties and all the way up to the Deputy Prime Minister.

Critically, the dual citizenship issue has drawn very public comments from key stakeholders in the business community. Senior figures are now raising concerns about the impact of this uncertainty on economic growth and investment. The very real prospect of an election in early 2018, or at least a byelection cluster, has put everything else on the backburner making it incredibly difficult to see a coherent positive message emerging from Canberra until well into the new year.

On the bright side, the massive turn out and positive result of the marriage equality postal survey is a genuinely good news story but one unlikely to reset the Government’s agenda.

Amidst all the attention grabbing political activity, media ownership legislation passed the parliament after three decades of debate in one form or another. The relatively quiet passage probably owes more to the fundamental shift in news and media consumption in the western world. As if to underscore the point, CBS’ play for Network 10 now with regulatory approval has passed with barely a whimper from the public.

Exactly how these significant changes impact the environment for corporate communications teams around Australia remains to be seen.

Either way, 2018 looks set to be another interesting one for Australia’s corporate communications professionals.

Happy Holidays and see you in the New Year!

The views and opinions in these articles are solely of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Teneo. They are offered to stimulate thought and discussion and not as legal, financial, accounting, tax or other professional advice or counsel.

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