My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today

by ray goodlass

An incensed Morrison wants to ban protests

In a recent outburst Scott Morrison branded environmental protesters “anarchists” and threatened a radical crackdown on the right to protest in a speech claiming progressives are seeking to “deny the liberties of Australians”. Presumably he hopes that his hyperbolic ranting will fool people into not noticing that what he is really doing is denying us all the liberty to protest, which is surely our democratic right.

In a speech to the Queensland Resources Council, the prime minister said a threat to the future of mining was coming from a “new breed of radical activism” and signalled the government would seek to apply penalties to those targeting businesses who provide services to the resources industry.

Civil society groups, including the Human Rights Law Centre and Australian Conservation Foundation, and the Greens immediately attacked the proposal as undemocratic and a bid to stifle a social movement fighting for Australia to take action on climate change.

Indeed, as Greens MP Adam Bandt said “Scott Morrison is becoming more dangerous by the day. So incensed is the Prime Minister by anyone who disagrees with him, that he’s now pushing to outlaw protests against his big polluting mates. This comes a few weeks after Peter Dutton threatened to fine, jail and strip support payments from people peacefully participating in the Extinction Rebellion protests.  These are the words and threats made by dictators.” Well said Mr Bandt.

So what caused all this concern about a speech by the PM? Mr Morrison told Australian corporations to listen to the “quiet shareholders” and not environmental protesters, who he suggested could shift targets from coal companies to all carbon-intensive industries including power generation, gas projects, abattoirs and airlines.

In his speech, proposing limits on free speech advocating boycotts against polluting companies, Morrison said progressives wanted to tell Australians “what you can say, what you can think and tax you more for the privilege of all of those instructions”.

He claimed that “progressivism”, which he labelled a “new-speak type term”, invoking George Orwell’s 1984, intends “to get in under the radar, but at its heart would deny the liberties of Australians”.

He pointed to what he described as the “worrying development” of environmental groups targeting businesses or firms involved in the mining sector with “secondary boycotts”, such as businesses refusing to provide banking, insurance or consultancy services.

“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.”

The executive director of the Human Rights Law Centre, Hugh de Kretser, said the plan to crack down on boycotts was “deeply concerning”.

“Protest is an essential part of our democracy,” he said. “To protect our democracy and help ensure a better future for all Australians, governments should be strengthening our rights to come together and protest, not weakening them.”

The Competition and Consumer Act already contains civil penalties for secondary boycotts, which target one business in order to prevent provision of goods or services to another, including if they cause “substantial loss or damage” or substantially lessen competition.

However, secondary boycotts for the “dominant purpose” of environmental protection or consumer protection are permitted.

The chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Kelly O’Shanassy, said community campaigning was a “legitimate response” voicing the concerns about global heating shared by millions of Australians.

“People protesting in the streets are not the only ones expressing alarm about climate change. The head of the Defence Force, the deputy governor of the Reserve Bank and the Australian Prudential Regulation have all recently raised serious concerns,” she said.

“To paint this broad community concern as being about fringe-dwelling extremists is an insult to all Australians who want a better future for themselves and their children”, O’Shanassy concluded.

So instead of getting tough on the climate crisis, Scott Morrison is dismantling democracy. In his ‘brave new world’, to borrow the title of another dystopian novel, everyday Australian citizens are not allowed to protest, boycott, spend money where we want, blow the whistle or report what the government is up to.

In a strange move from the party that champions individual liberty and free enterprise Mr Morrison will not allow us  to express our freedom in the commercial market place. Surely, politicians have a responsibility to defend our democracy, not degrade it.