When Bernie got Burnt!

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Hands up if you didn’t know who Bernie Brookes was before Wednesday the 1st May? I certainly didn’t.  In one ill thought out moment our Bernie, the CEO of the Myer Group,  has become perhaps the most reviled man in Australia amongst people with a disability and their advocates. As we all know Prime Minister Gillard has proposed an NDIS Levy to help fund the NDIS. This will be an extra .5% on top of the current Medicare Levy. This will take the levy from 1.5% to 2%.

While the disability sector rejoiced Bernie had a brain fade. Bernie suggested that because Australians had been asked to pay a little extra tax that they would spend less at Myer. Consequently Myer would suffer, sales would, fall and jobs would go. What is more Bernie said it was the wealthier Australians that would suffer the most because they actually had to pay more of the Levy. This is what Bernie said, “The financial impost would be greater for wage earners in higher salary brackets, which could affect sales at department stores in particular since their customers typically have higher incomes.” The poor rich dears, my heart bleeds!

The disability community who had been largely celebrating the Levy announcement were shocked. How dare any one suggest that people with a disability would be responsible for Myer’s problems. Collectively disability divas all over Australia rose as one. Social media went into overdrive. Bernie’s comments were plastered all over Facebook and Twitter. In no time at all a Boycott Myer campaign was established. Myer’s Facebook page and website was inundated with comments from irate people and supporters of the NDIS. So great was the wave of protest that Myer were eventually forced to temporarily shut down their website.

The Myer PR team went into overdrive. By Thursday morning they had released an apology of sorts. But it was a begrudging apology. They pointed out that they supported the NDIS, they were sorry for any offence taken but they still thought the Levy was a bad idea. I can only describe this move by them as being. – Not very bright. This just made people even angrier.

Later in the morning, seeing the error of their ways, Myer  issued another apology. This time the apology was a lot softer. The second apology made no mention of the Levy. They simply said, We certainly did not intend to offend anyone, and again, we are very sorry.” Myer made it very, very clear that they fully supported the NDIS.

All seemed dandy but then Bernie came back to issue another apology. Bernie wanted to reinforce that he was really sorry for the hurt that his comments caused BUT reiterated that he thought the Levy was bad for business. In a sense he almost said, “Sorry your upset but I still think you lot are a burden.”

Being the CEO of Myer one would assume that Bernie has a fair knowledge of finance and economics. If he does he certainly has not demonstrated this with his comments about the NDIS. If Bernie had done just a wee bit of homework he would have discovered that the Productivity Commission Report into the NDIS predicted that the NDIS, when operating properly, had the potential to contribute $9.2 billion to Australia’s gross domestic product. And that is on top of what is to be invested in it. One would have thought that a smart CEO would have done his homework before making comment. Bernie is clearly not a smart CEO!

Indeed Peter Martin writing in The Age has argued that the NDIS Levy will, “Boost the nation’s economic performance.”[1] Martin’s argument is quite simple. The NDIS would create opportunities. He brings to our attention that the NDIS has the potential to create employment for 220000 people with a disability, many who were previously unemployable. These people, of course, will then become active economic contributors whereas before many were largely confined to their homes. They will spend their income on entertainment, on goods and on services. No doubt some would have gone to Myer. They might not now after Bernie’s comments.

Apart from creating opportunities for work the NDIS will mean that money previously spent by people with a disability on their care would now be spent elsewhere. Carers, previously time poor because they were caring for their disabled children, will have more time to participate in the community. Jobs are likely to be created in the disability sector for people to carry out the care that is needed. Equipment such as wheelchairs will now be fully funded and be more readily available. A spin off from this is that the NDIS is likely to create greater opportunities for innovation and manufacturing of aids and equipment. It’s almost like the NDIS will generate a whole new economy. Myer might have benefited from that. But then along came Bernie – OOOPS!

Meanwhile it was announced today that Myer shareholdings dropped 3.4%. Perhaps this is not related to Bernie’s comments, but still Karma is a bitch isn’t it? All over Australia people with a disability, their families and their friends are cutting up their Myer cards. All over Australia these same people are going to take their business elsewhere. And believe me that is a lot of people. One can imagine other fair minded people, not related to people with a disability but wanting to support an NDIS, will have taken offence and will also be taking their business elsewhere. Oh Bernie!!!! What have you done?

It’s not the NDIS Levy that will kill Myer – I think Bernie may have done that all by himself.

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