Protests bad for bottom line

 Bendigo and Adelaide Bank chairman Robert Johanson. Picture: GLENN DANIELS
Bendigo and Adelaide Bank chairman Robert Johanson. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

Negative perceptions of Bendigo as a result of national media attention on the city’s mosque debate could affect the bottom line of the bank bearing its name.

Speaking at Bendigo and Adelaide Bank’s annual general meeting at Ulumbarra Theatre on Tuesday, bank chairman Robert Johanson said recent clashes between far left and far right activists at anti-Islam protests could tarnish the city’s name.

“If the brand Bendigo became associated with bigotry, racism, and exclusion, hate - all those sorts of things – then that would impact on us and on the business that we do,” he said.

“If Bendigo the city became associated with those things, we would not be able to attract here the people that we need to work for us.”

Mr Johanson said it was “essential” the bank was inclusive of people of all faiths and cultural backgrounds.

“We want to encourage those groups that have been excluded from workplaces and communities in the past to be able to contribute to their full extent possible,” he said.

“That’s the organisation that we are and we want to be a part of communities that want to do that.”

Mr Johanson said the bank was reluctant to involve itself in political issues but chose to join the Believe in Bendigo campaign because permanent damage to the city’s reputation could have a “direct business impact”.

“As a bank and as an organisation, we try generally to keep out of issues of civil society. These are issues best left for individuals as voters,” he said.

“We are asked to involve ourselves in or take stances on political issues from time to time but we are generally reluctant to do so. We were only brought into this issue because others sought to use our brand and our name to give credibility by attaching us to their cause.”

Mr Johanson said the bank was proud to bear the name Bendigo.

“...the identity of this town is so integrally involved in the history of the organisation and its values represent the values we’re proud of and want to promulgate,” he said.

To loud applause from the shareholders assembled for the AGM, Mr Johanson said Bendigo was not a place of hate.

“To be that sort of place would be so contrary to the history of this city,” he said.

“(When the city was founded) this place was diverse and multicultural; we had synagogues being built, we had churches, we had people coming from all over the world. That’s the sort of place we need to be able to have again if our organisation is to continue to prosper.”