Greens blast Coalition proposal for ban on boycotts 25Sep13 September 25, 2013

The Guardian    -    23 September 2013

61e4d9f9-0225-4bbe-9082-12290911d25b-460x276The Greens and environmental groups have reacted angrily to a signal from the new Coalition government that activists campaigning for consumer boycotts could have their legal protections stripped away.

Greens leader Christine Milne said the proposed changes would be a strike against the efficient operation of markets and promised the party would ‘”do anything in our power to stop this change going through”.

Milne blasted a newspaper report suggesting a looming review of consumer and competition law could provide the catalyst for the new Abbott government to ban secondary boycott exemptions for environmental groups – a move that could allow activists to be prosecuted.

“It’s a really bad proposition that comes from an ideologically ridiculous place,” Milne told reporters in Canberra on Monday. 

The change was telegraphed by the parliamentary secretary for agriculture, Richard Colbeck, in an interview with the Australian newspaper. Colbeck put a question mark over the current exemptions for secondary boycott activities under trade practices law.

“We are going to have a complete review of the Act and one of the things I’d be looking at would be to bring a level playing field back so that environment groups are required to comply with the same requirements as business and industry,” Colbeck said.

Unlawful secondary boycotts occur if third parties deliberately hinder the supply of goods or services – but there is an explicit exemption for activists involved in campaigns intended to protect the environment or consumers. Such campaigns might target the use of non-sustainable timbers, or highlight the use of child labour in manufacturing.

Milne told reporters this would be a strike against the efficient operation of markets by a “secretive, backward-looking government”.

The Wilderness Society was also critical. “It’s an odd move by a pro-free market government to try to protect businesses from consumers receiving credible information about their products,” the Wilderness Society’s national director, Lyndon Schneiders, said.

“Government can’t protect companies who don’t have a social licence, as was witnessed with the spectacular collapse of one-time logging giant Gunns Limited in Tasmania.”

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