IT’S less airport, more Oxford St.
The first thing that greets you at Qantas’ Sydney headquarters is a somewhat more fabulous rendition of one of the airline’s famous tails — all glitter and cheery multi-coloured stripes.
“We had the rainbow roo as our float in the [Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras] parade, a lot of staff got behind it and we thought it’s such a great symbol of diversity it would be very well placed to be on the entrance of head office,” Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce tells the Star Observer.
Joyce’s tenure at the top of Australia’s national airline, which he joined in 2000, hasn’t always been as bright as his many-hued kangaroo.
In 2011, he temporarily grounded its planes in the midst of an industrial dispute while last year, the group posted a $2.8 billion loss and cut thousands from its work force.
At least for now, the clouds have parted with the boss — on a pay package of more than $11 million — having just announced an after-tax profit of $560 million.
The return to the black has given Joyce clear blue sky to concentrate on other matters — such as his, and Qantas’ support of the marriage equality campaign.
“Whether people want to get married or not, it’s the acceptance message that’s important and any society that says a group is not as equal as the rest is just horrendous,” he says.
Joyce admits he’s a bit of a plane nerd. He has a model of an A380 superjumbo on display in his Sydney flat, but he reveals timetables are his real passion.
“That sounds gawky,” he says.
“But I was schedules planning manager for a long time and some of the routes going back to the 50s and 60s are very unusual, some are very much collectors items.
“John Travolta, our ambassador, he collects them as well and the history of them is fascinating for anyone in the industry.”
However, Joyce maintains his entry into the industry was pure chance. The mathematician from a working class town outside Dublin happened to see a job ad for Aer Lingus and decided to give it a punt.
After eight years at the airline, he left for Australia and a gig at the now-defunct Ansett airlines.
Ireland had decriminalised homosexuality just one year earlier in 1995, more than two decades after the ACT became the first Australian jurisdiction to do the same.
He rejoices in the “amazing” result of the recent Irish marriage equality referendum, where 62 per cent of people voted in favour, as a symbol of just how far his homeland has picked up the pace on gay rights. It wasn’t always so.
“Most people would go to mass [and] the divorce referendum, the first time that went up it was voted down because the Catholic church said it should be.”
He recalls how being gay was not encouraged.
“My neighbour’s young man came out and he was kicked out of home and that was horrendous so that was the type of environment,” Joyce says.
“But my family were always really accepting.
“My brother was in New York, he’s not gay but he lived on [LGBTI-centric] Christopher St and he was always very relaxed which made coming out a lot easier.
“They love my partner and, lucky enough, that was never a problem but I could see other families being torn apart by it.”
Joyce, who met his partner Shane Lloyd in Melbourne 15 years ago, has lamented that while they can marry under Irish, British or New Zealand law, they can’t under the law of the one country they are both citizens of: Australia.
Lloyd has been a key driver behind his marriage equality advocacy, says Joyce.
“He’s very passionate about that and he’s also very passionate about all other elements of diversity,” he says.
“Your partner’s always going to be very important to you in supporting you in all the things you do in life and Shane’s always been that for me.”
Retail advisor and the openly-gay former chief executive of department store David Jones, Paul Zahra, says Joyce is an inspiration.
“The marriage equality campaign has been significantly boosted by having Alan available, giving his personal time and energy,” Zahra says.
“It demonstrates how a CEO can use their position and status to bring about social change.”
However, the increasingly long-winded method by which this social change might occur, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott [Editor’s note: this story was sent to print just days before Malcolm Turnbull became the new PM] now planning a “people’s vote” after the next election, frustrates Joyce.
“I am worried about the idea of a plebiscite or a referendum,” he says, highlighting how Ireland had to hold a vote due to its constitution.
“If parliament can decide, why doesn’t parliament just make the decision?
“And what falls into the definition of plebiscite after this? There are lots of hard decisions made all the time, should we be asking the people on every issue? The country would be ungovernable.”
If there were to be a plebiscite, which Joyce warns might be a bad-tempered battle that could impact on vulnerable LGBTI people, waiting years is not an option.
“We should be getting this out of the way as soon as possible,” he says.
“We’re sending the wrong message by this taking as long as it is, we were the second or third country to that allowed voting for women, we’re falling behind on this one and we should be at the lead because we’re a great, diverse country.”
He has little truck with the anti-equality brigade.
“The arguments people are using are very weak,” Joyce says.
“If anybody searches the history of marriage they know it has evolved — for the first thousand years of the Christian church it was a Roman Pagan ritual.
“A women couldn’t refuse sex within a marriage until the 70s in a lot of countries, interfaith and interracial marriage weren’t allowed and the argument about it should be for procreation only, does that mean that we have to do a fertility test any time anybody gets married?”
The “what about the children” angle also doesn’t impress Joyce.
“What about the research showing gay parents are fantastic at raising kids?” he shoots back.
He says every argument is easily countered and if marriage is legislated, “the message it sends for young gay men which have six times the suicide rate, will greatly outweigh the negativity being used on the other side because there isn’t really a case for not doing it”.
He is circumspect on whether he has relayed his views to Abbott and other political marriage equality hold-outs.
“When I’m in Canberra, I’m focusing in on Qantas issues but of course a lot of the politicians have met Shane and know my views and that’s been very clear.” Joyce says.
As chief executive, he says it’s important he devotes equal time to all areas of diversity such as initiatives focused on women and Indigenous Australians. But he intends to remain a strong voice on the issue.
“I’d love to [and] I think corporate Australia will do generally,” he says.
“We have 580 companies involved with the [Australian Marriage Equality] ad campaign. If you’re unhappy with a company that’s involved with the campaign you won’t be able to bank and you won’t be able to fly anywhere.”
However, despite all the delays to passing marriage equality, Joyce says he’s still glad to call Australia home.
“What other country would a gay Irish man become the CEO of the national carrier? It’s fantastic.”
**This article was first published in the October edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.