Shell’s Australian chairman said companies need to get smarter in the way they deal with activism to ensure future projects are not hamstrung by waves of protests.
Speaking at a business breakfast in Perth yesterday, Andrew Smith said activism boosted by digital communication was one of the biggest challenges facing Australian growth.
He wants corporate leaders to build “coalitions of support” and create better community engagement to battle what he called “degrees in activism”, The West Australian reported.
"More than ever brave and visionary leadership decisions will face broad scrutiny – this is an inevitable outcome of the information age,” Smith said.
"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."
Smith said he felt "it's not always at the front of people's mind that it is really important that business can succeed, so that society works".
Pointing to the debate around CSG and the expansion of Abbott Point coal terminal, Smith said some activists were pushing to halt new developments alltogether.
However Smith sounded a warning to the business community not to marginalise NGOs and fringe activist groups.
"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.”
Smith said industry needed to better explain its position the community.
"Frustration is not a productive response," Smith said.
"The people are the electorate, the resource doesn't belong to the companies, it belongs to the country, so we need to listen to what the community has got to say, and respond. There often is a void of information and we need to be filling that void.
"So industry has a bigger role here. Frustration is not the right way to respond. Listening and activity engaging with the community is the right way to respond.
"That doesn't mean you respond necessarily in the way people are trying to incite you to respond but we need to listen, we need to engage."
Shell is developing the world-first $12 billion Prelude floating LNG project off the West Australian coast.