High-profile businessman and environmentalist Geoff Cousins has quit the Australian Club in protest after its members voted not to allow women to join.
Mr Cousins, who is a former Telstra director and ex-president of the Australian Conservation, told Today he was stunned by the decision made by members of the elite club.
“I had assumed there was a small group of people in this club who might hold these views,” he said.
“But I had absolutely no idea that two-thirds of the people present – and it was the biggest crowd ever in the 100-and-whatever-year-history of the club – two-thirds of them voted against this in 2021.
“I just cannot believe it.”
The elite club was founded in 1838 and since then has only allowed men to join as members.
Former prime minister John Howard celebrated his 80th birthday there in 2019.
Other well-known members include George Pell, Malcolm Turnbull and James Packer.
In order to change its rules and allow women to join, 75 per cent of members needed to vote in favour of the proposal, a number that was nowhere near reached.
Mr Cousins said those who voted in favour of allowing women to join, including himself, spoke of the move as a social justice issue.
He said members against allowing women in were worried about “trivialities” such as whether the club’s décor would need to change and whether members would be forced to modify their behaviour at lunch.
Mr Cousins said the Australian Club was an important place where industry leaders came to meet and excluding women was “dead wrong”.
“Some (members) are still running big companies or chairing them … and signing off on statements in their annual reports that say, ‘We’re all for gender equality,'” he said.
“Yet here they are voting to prevent women from coming into a place, which is an important place in a way because that’s where people do talk about who might get the CEO job and who might do this and who might do that.”
Mr Cousins said he was aware the exclusive club’s powerful members could make it difficult for people who spoke out against the institution.
“I’m at a time of life where I couldn’t care less, but let’s say you still are making your career,” he said.
“It’s done in a way where you come up for a job or a position or an interesting thing that you would like to do and somebody just quietly says, ‘you know, he’s not quite right. I wouldn’t have him.’ That sort of thing,” he said.