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The role of corporate communication in perpetuating inequalities of access by individual investors to corporate decision-making

O'Byrne, Susan (2012) The role of corporate communication in perpetuating inequalities of access by individual investors to corporate decision-making. Masters by Coursework thesis, Murdoch University.

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In an age of global concern and disquiet about the power and ability of large companies to influence the social fabric of the countries in which they operate, citizens around the world are increasingly demanding a greater say in the governance of major corporations. Many of these large, listed companies are funded by individual investors who, in Australia, are involved in investing through their regular savings into superannuation funds. These investors are the majority of the Australian adult population who, in effect, are the real owners of the capital that sustains these powerful companies. Despite the demands of citizens for greater corporate engagement, research-based reports by industry and government indicate that individual investors have no role in influencing the decision-making of the listed companies, or the investment decisions of the superannuation funds that manage their money.

To date, little academic research has explored the reasons for this lack of participation by individual investors in corporate decision-making and, therefore, this project seeks to make a contribution to addressing this gap in the scholarship. The project investigates why people in Australia who provide capital to companies through their superannuation savings may have little influence over decision making in the companies in which they invest. It examines the role of corporate communication in facilitating or hindering the engagement of individual investors with the superannuation funds and the listed companies in which they invest.

The study employed critical discourse analysis as a methodological approach to analyse the corporate communications of five of the top listed companies and five of the largest superannuation funds in Australia. Data was collected by analysing websites and other formal communications in order to understand how stakeholders were identified and communicated with by the companies and funds, and the extent to which individual investors were recognised as salient stakeholders. In tandem, the study reviewed the extent to which institutional investors (those who manage the money in superannuation funds) acknowledged the importance of individual investors as owners of the money they managed. The findings of the study indicate that the formal communications of both the superannuation funds and listed companies in the study reinforce and maintain the barriers that hinder the recognition by all parties that the capital for a significant portion of the Australian equity and bond markets market is ultimately provided by members of superannuation funds. A result of this is that the views and values of a large portion of the Australian investing population are not necessarily considered or sought at the highest levels of senior managements or boards of either superannuation funds or listed companies. Therefore, from the perspective of the superannuation funds and the listed companies, a hierarchy of stakeholders exists with individual investors overlooked and marginalised with regard to both corporate decision-making and messaging, while institutional and other professional investors are prioritised. This power imbalance is reinforced in both the content and structure of the analysed written communications of the superannuation funds and listed companies.

Therefore, the study concludes that the power for decision-making, and the shaping of Australian business, resides with a small group of senior managers who make decisions with reference only to a small group of professional investors, i.e. decisions are made by those who manage the money, rather than those who provide and ultimately own the money. It is the beliefs and values of the professional investors that are represented, not those whose capital offers the companies the opportunity to continue business and the superannuation funds a chance to have a business. The written communications of these companies and superannuation funds reinforce and perpetuate this power imbalance. In order to redress this situation and overcome the privileging of a single stakeholder group, this study recommends that the superannuation funds employ a range of corporate communication strategies that address and engage all stakeholder groups.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters by Coursework)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Media, Communication and Culture
Supervisor(s): Daymon, Christine
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