Activism will challenge growth: Smith

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The West Australian: Activism will challenge growth: Smith. Peter Klinger, October 14, 2014

Shell Australia chairman Andrew Smith has called on “authenticity in (corporate) leadership” to ensure the next generation of greenfields projects overcome “inevitable waves of protest”.

And he warned that “activism, boosted by digital communication, is fast becoming one of the greatest challenges facing Australian growth”.

Addressing a WestBusiness Leadership Matters breakfast in Perth today, Mr Smith said it was incumbent on corporate leaders to build “coalitions of support” and acknowledge the information age meant they had to engage with communities and “cast egos aside”.

Mr Smith referenced one of his predecessors, Roland Williams, and former Victorian Football League boss Ross Oakley as leaders who brought a sense of reality to their positions, knew their businesses had to grow to thrive and survive, and stood up to vested interests.

Mr Smith, whose company is involved in the $US54 billion Gorgon LNG project on Barrow Island and leading the oil and gas industry’s response to rising costs by pursuing floating LNG developments, did not single out any of Shell’s ventures.

But he pointed to increased opposition to major infrastructure projects from “activists who prefer alternative paths to development – or sadly no development at all”.

“Rather than express an alternative point of view by peaceful protest they look to undermine the legitimacy of decisions taken by democratically elected governments,” Mr Smith said.

He singled out furore surrounding the expansion of Queensland’s Abbot Point port and Melbourne’s East West Link freeway construction as well as the debate surrounding Queensland’s coal seam gas industry.

“Too often the blame for these circumstances is placed at the feet of well organised NGOs and fringe activist groups,” Mr Smith said.

“Groups that the business community likes to marginalise.

“But this is far too simplistic, and ignores the fact that effective leadership is about building coalitions of support.

“Often protest action manifests itself in communities that feel they have lost control of a process. Fears within these groups are too often manipulated by interests that fill a void in knowledge, sometimes with misinformation.

“More than ever brave and visionary leadership decisions will face broad scrutiny – this is an inevitable outcome of the information age.

“Challenging decisions will face more effective campaigns of public outrage, some of it based on confected outrage whipped up by university graduates armed with degrees in activism.

“But we cannot allow these dynamics to halt Australian progress.”

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