• Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt (right) and Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell launch the eReefs website in Brisbane, Wednesday, April 23, 2014. (AAP)
Ice cream brand Ben & Jerry's has been referred to the ACCC by the Queensland government, over what it claims is a misleading campaign over the fate of the Great Barrier Reef.
By
Rebecca Shaw

1 May 2014 - 12:03 PM  UPDATED 1 May 2014 - 12:28 PM

Queensland’s environment minister Andrew Powell has apparently taken time out from his busy schedule this week to run a marketing campaign for giant American ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s – proving that his priorities are in good order.

Mr Powell has taken issue with the company’s support for the World Wildlife Fund campaign to save the Great Barrier Reef. Earlier this month, the company withdrew the ice cream flavour ‘Phish Food’ (because fish are in the ocean get it?), and embarked on a ‘Scoop Ice Cream, Not the Reef’ road trip around Australia to give out free ice cream in hopes of raising awareness and highlighting their concerns around the government-approved intensive dredging and dumping in the reef, along with mega-ports and shipping highways.

Why is the Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection, conceivably the person who should care most about the fate of the Great Barrier Reef, spending his time calling out an ice cream company for attempting to draw attention to risks that the reef might face?

Mr Powell wants consumers to boycott Ben & Jerry’s, saying the company has damaged the reputation of the reef, jeopardising jobs and tourism dollars. He also said that he would be writing to the parent company, Unilever, to express his concerns.  

Even though the Unilever people are probably cowering behind their desks waiting for the strongly worded letter to arrive, having meeting after meeting frantically deciding how to stop Powell’s boycott from ruining their giant global company, this still seems to be a strange fight for Mr Powell and the Queensland government to wage.

First of all, the government is calling for a boycott of an ice cream company (and not even because of the company’s controversial past use of palm oil or their operations in Israel). So … that’s pretty odd.

Second, Mr Powell’s call for a boycott of Ben & Jerry’s for causing damage to the reef (through losses of jobs and tourism) comes at a time when the Federal government (specifically Tasmanian Senator Richard Colbeck) is hoping to use the review of Australian competition laws to push for a ban on ‘secondary boycotts’.

These boycotts prevent or hinder a third party supplying goods to, or buying from, another party. Currently, only consumer or environmental activists are permitted to conduct them. A ban would, for example, prevent green groups from organizing boycotts and campaigns to pressure consumers not to buy products made from old-growth forests, which in turn, impacts the timber industry. While Mr Powell is not technically calling for a secondary boycott, it does seem contradictory and inconsistent, and makes things as murky as the waters of a reef after three million cubic metres of sediment from dredging are dumped into it.

Mr Powell’s statements have several puzzling components. Why is the Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection, conceivably the person who should care most about the fate of the Great Barrier Reef, spending his time calling out an ice cream company for attempting to draw attention to risks that the reef might face? Does Queensland have no other important environmental issues for him to focus on? Can’t he come over and stop these possums from waking me up at night? Also, why would he spend his time calling out an ice cream company that will only benefit from the publicity he has just bestowed upon them?

I had not even heard of the Ben & Jerry’s environmental campaign until Mr Powell drew my attention to it. I am someone who keeps on top of ice cream world news as much as possible. His boycott call has just provided fodder for hundreds of commenters to remark that they will now especially seek out this particular brand when they next purchase ice cream, and even that some people will now start eating ice cream, just to spite the government.

At the time of writing, a poll on Brisbane Times asking if readers will boycott the ice cream company has ‘No, I am more likely to buy Ben & Jerry’s because of their stance’ at a whopping 79% of the vote. Perhaps all of this is a sign the environment minister needs to get his head out of the constituent’s freezers and instead focus his time addressing voter concerns about the future of the reef.

Rebecca Shaw is a Brisbane-based writer and host of the fortnightly comedy podcast Bring a Plate.