Myer stands by Brookes

Myer chief executive Bernie Brookes (left) and chairman Paul McClintock. Photo: Jesse MarlowMyer chairman Paul McClintock and deputy chairman Rupert Myer have given public support to their department store boss Bernie Brookes, following a firestorm of abuse and vitriol against the department store on social media.

Mr Brookes last week made comments about the burden of taxes and levies on consumer spending, which was widely viewed as an attack on the government’s new disability insurance scheme.

However, in a letter to Myer staff obtained by BusinessDay, Mr McClintock and Mr Myer said the company’s chief executive was not commenting directly on the National Disability Insurance Scheme, but was actually responding to a question on taxes.

“At a Macquarie investor conference last week, Bernie responded to a specific question on whether additional taxes or levies would impact the consumer generally and sales specifically,” the internal memo said.

“Bernie responded directly to that question by remarking that a further tax impost on top of cost of living increases would impact discretionary expenditure and result in money not being spent at retailers like Myer.”

Last week at the Macquarie investor conference Mr Brookes sparked a tirade of abuse and angry reaction when he was asked about the new levy to pay for the NDIS and said the estimated average of $350 a year people will pay through Medicare “is something they would have spent with us”.

The comments saw a numerous “boycott Myer” sites pop up, while social media platforms such as Facebook and twitter attracted a flood of personal abuse aimed at Mr Brookes as well as Myer.

“Much of the commentary about Myer, the CEO, and our support for the disabled has been ill informed and made without seeking the company position or understanding actions we have taken. Some of that is being perpetuated notwithstanding our direct contact with numerous stakeholders, advocacy groups and individuals,” the staff memo says.

“Clearly, offence was taken by some in the community about that reference. Once we understood that offence was taken, the company, as well as Bernie personally, quickly apologised publicly. That apology has been repeated since then and it remains posted on our Facebook and twitter sites.

“Given the external reaction, the board has directly considered this matter and has endorsed the approach taken in response. The board is extremely aware of the sensitivities around the debate and has reaffirmed the position of support for an appropriately funded scheme to assist those with disabilities, their carers and families. Both sides of politics have now largely agreed to such a scheme and we welcome progress of the matter as soon as practicable.”

The Myer chairman said Australia’s biggest department store has long been a supporter of charitable endeavours and community support groups, including those who seek to provide employment for those less able in the community.

“We support the Salvation Army in times of fire or flood, Vision Australia, the development of the Olivia Newton John Cancer and Wellness Centre, and the Redkite charity.”

The chairman and deputy chair also backed Mr Brookes.

“Our results based on sales, profit and the provision of jobs are a direct result of the efforts of each of you. Bernie is central to the success of the business and the board is grateful for all your efforts under his leadership.

“There are few individuals who commit their personal time and support such a myriad of charities, both personally and financially. This includes personal support to disabled and underprivileged children. [Bernie] does this with no request for recognition or acknowledgement.

“That is the person we know and it is regrettable that he has been treated in such a negative manner.”

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