Australia

Scott Morrison's crackdown on 'indulgent' climate boycotts is dividing public opinion

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the Queensland Resources Council. Source: AAP

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s pledge to outlaw the "indulgent" practice of activists driving boycott campaigns against businesses is dividing supporters and opponents.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s promise to crack down on "indulgent and selfish" activist-driven boycott campaigns is proving divisive with backers and opponents clashing over its legitimacy.

The mining sector is the latest to get behind the Prime Minister’s pledge to stop environmental groups using so-called “secondary boycotts” to pressure companies to stop servicing businesses of sectors they oppose.

Mr Morrison made the commitment in a speech to the Queensland Resources Council last Friday, arguing a trend of boycott campaigns against the mining industry is posing a threat to the economy.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has promised to examine ways to stop environmental groups driving boycott campaigns against businesses.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has promised to examine ways to stop environmental groups driving boycott campaigns against businesses.
AAP

The Competition and Consumer Act already contains civil penalties preventing such boycotts taking place – but these laws include exemptions for environmental activists and matters of consumer protection.

Shane Stephan, CEO of Queensland mining company New Hope, believes the provisions are being unfairly misused by environmental groups to drive the boycott campaigns.

“They are free to target us," he told ABC Radio.

"[But] they just should not be free to target our suppliers of goods and services – that is what a secondary boycott is. We believe that privilege is being misused … by environmental activist groups.” 

In one such example, the controversial Adani coal mine in Queensland’s Bowen Basin has seen banks, lenders and engineering companies pressured not to support the project at the centre of widespread activist campaigns.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivers his speech.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivers his speech.
AAP

Mr Morrison delivered a warning over environmental groups targeting businesses that provide services to the coal mining industry, in his speech. 

"I am very concerned about this new form of progressivism," he said.

“Environmental groups are targeting businesses and firms who provide goods and services to firms they don’t like, especially in the resources sector."

He said this posed an "insidious threat" to the economy and denied the “liberties of Australians”.

“Let me assure you, this is not something my government intends to allow go unchecked," he said.

“Together with the Attorney-General, we are working to identify mechanisms that can successfully outlaw these indulgent and selfish practices that threaten the livelihoods of fellow Australians, especially in rural and regional areas.”

Choosing to boycott a 'basic right'

Co-founder of software company Atlassian Mike Cannon-Brookes is among those who have broken ranks with other business leaders dismissing the Morrison government’s plan.

He told the Sydney Morning Herald Australians had a “basic right” to pressure companies to change their behaviour and who they conduct business with.   

“The people protesting over climate change are not quiet Australians. They are loud because the government is quiet on the climate,” he said.

“Choosing not to do business with companies that threaten the health of the planet is everyone’s basic right. It's a way to get business to do the right thing, because we are all accountable.”

'We need to do something'

But the Business Council of Australia is backing the Prime Minister looking into the matter despite opponents warning this action could threaten the rights of protesters.

Business Council Chief Executive Jennifer Westacott said Mr Morrison was right to say "something" needs to be done to prevent the "secondary boycotts".

“I think we’ve got to look at examining it and what we can do to minimise this,” she told Sky News on Monday.

“Companies, of course, have choices about where they invest and choices about how they respond to these things, but it’s very difficult when you’re under this unrelenting intimidation by many activists."

The Human Rights Law Centre has labelled the Prime Minister’s plan “deeply concerning,” saying the move could weaken protesters' rights.

Executive Director Hugh de Kretser said boycott campaigns were legitimate tactics for activists to use and should be protected.

“From ending slavery to stopping apartheid, boycott campaigns have played a critical role in achieving many social advances – we now take for granted,” he said in a statement

“It’s vital that people can come together and campaign against not only the companies that are committing human rights abuses or harming our environment but also the companies that profit from doing business them.”

'Right to protest'

The Prime Minister’s speech in Queensland came after anti-mining protests had seen activists clash with police outside a mining conference in Melbourne.

“The right to protest does not mean there is an unlimited licence to disrupt people’s lives and disrespect fellow Australians,” Mr Morrison said.

Protesters attempt to stop conference members entering during a protest against The International Mining and Resources Conference in Melbourne.
Protesters attempt to stop conference members entering during a protest against The International Mining and Resources Conference in Melbourne.
AAP

But Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has called on the Prime Minister to avoid such “provocative” and “anti-democratic” statements.

“If this wasn’t a thought bubble, I don’t know what is,” he told reporters over the weekend.

Greens Senator Nick McKim also rejected the Morrison government’s plan. 

“Morrison is a fascist who will try to arrest his way through the civil disobedience ... while he ignores the destruction of climate and nature,” he tweeted.

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