Ahead of the Coalition's signalled changes to protests, boycotts and freedom of speech, executive editor Michelle Pini decodes who may and may not protest and what they may protest about.
THE MINISTER FOR RESOURCES and Northern Australia – who, like his coal-loving PM, has openly spruiked coal and practically kissed the feet of his environment-pillaging hero, Gautam Adani – is on TV discussing climate protests and talking about “groups abusing the law”.
Scarcely able to string two words together to form a coherent sentence, Matt Canavan is umming and ahhing on The Project, whining about protesters “stopping average Australians, particularly small businesses, going about their day.”
A few days prior, Scott Morrison labelled environmental protesters “anarchists” and flagged a crackdown on the right to protest, indicating his Government would seek to apply penalties to those boycotting businesses. Such "anarchists" seek to “deny the liberties of Australians”, according to the PM.
MATT IDENTIFIES A PROBLEM
Canavan tells The Project:
“Um, it’s a problem, ah, that we need to look at … we should be [the?] government to help people solve problems.”
Well, we can’t argue with that.
“I want to go back over these secondary boycotts… So what can people do and what can’t they do?” asks presenter Gorgi Coghlan.
“Well, ah… under the law, ah, under the Competition and Consumer Act — and people can of course call for boycotts, they can themselves decide not to, to boycott, but if they’re doing it in concert to prevent particularly competition emerging in markets, that’s where it stops.”
“I’m still confused,” says Coghlan. [Aren’t we all?] “Because if someone turns up to someone’s private company or business or property, we have laws in place, they can’t actually do that, so let’s talk about examples—"
“Sorry,” says Canavan, “there is a distinction, it’s a legal distinction, ah, between, you’re right, people can’t trespass on people’s private property but that’s not what happening here …”
“But if we look at a social media group that might be putting pressure on a bank that’s bankrolling a thermal coal mine that might have environmental impacts … isn’t that just democracy? Would that be outlawed?”
“Yeah, I don’t, there’s no, there’s no problem with that. People are obviously free to go and do that.”
'WHAT I WANNA DO'
Several cringeworthy minutes ensue, during which Canavan attempts to explain how this is different to the last time, when his Government, under Abbott, attempted to rewrite the Constitution with respect to secondary boycotts and failed.
Canavan ends by summarising the Coalition's latest position on democratic protests and public boycotts thus:
“What I wanna do, what I wanna do is support Australian jobs… I do think the problem’s gotten worse, though, since that review — protests holding up traffic, putting lives at risk, ah, ah, just with a few people.”
Thanks for clearing that up, Matt.
Let’s try and clear at least one thing up. This latest tirade from “free speech warriors” the Morrison Government, is about one thing and one thing only — only those who agree with this Government are permitted the right to protest, boycott, or spew forth with angry tirades against others. Once again, free speech, in the world according to the Coalition, is only a right for the Right.
THE RIGHT AND LEFT OF POLITICAL PROTEST
To assist in our understanding of the Right and proper application of our democratic rights, listed below are a few examples of who can and can’t, according to the Morrison Government's free speech rules, protest, enact a boycott or, generally, speak out about perceived injustice:
1. Racing parade v animal activists
On Tuesday in Melbourne, the “race that stops a nation” went ahead, once again, amid new revelations about the extent of cruelty against horses, which consistently leads to their torture and death for our amusement. This usually includes our democratic Right to dress up, gamble and drink to excess.
In this scenario, the racing industry, who parade the horses around the streets bringing Melbourne to a standstill, for a horse race in which the privileged few rake in millions, are just “small businesses” going about their day to day lives. They are not “putting lives at risk” — certainly not even those of the horses they slaughter.
However, animal activists who protest against this shameful industry are, obviously, wrong to create any inconvenience in Melbourne’s streets and are “putting lives at risk”. That’s also why we need "ag-gag laws" (which specifically prohibit unauthorised filming of farm activities) preventing these upstarts from exposing the mistreatment of animals, which is the democratic Right of any farmer, or the "small" racing industry.
2. Westpac v Canavan
Only two short years ago, Matt “Minister for Coal” Canavan encouraged everyone to boycott Westpac because the bank had decided to drop on-the-nose mining companies from its investment list.
Matty boycotting Westpac in this scenario is okay, because – pay attention here – it is about our democratic Right to protect the “small business” of coal mining and fossil fuels in general.
It would not be okay for anyone to protest against the democratic Right of the Minister for Coal to boycott any business that got in the way of coal. This would include outside any mining conferences, obviously.
3. Mining tax v climate change action
Gina Rinehart and Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest protested in the streets of Perth when the Labor Government instigated the so-called “mining tax.” Gina jangled her bangles standing atop a flat-topped truck, and led the chant alongside fellow protesters to demand Kevin Rudd "axe the tax".
Fellow billionaire Forrest, whose “small business” Fortescue Metals had never paid tax, was Rightly aghast at the prospect of breaking that record and took it all the way to the High Court.
Once again, this is perfectly acceptable. Gina and Twiggy were simply exercising their democratic Right – aided by the mainstream media – to topple any government that stood in the way of their billions.
It is not okay for anyone to protest against the Adani mine, however, or boycott any of the companies owned by the aforementioned billionaires. This would be “abusing the law” and would not be tolerated. It would likely also be “putting lives at risk”.
Perhaps the best explanation of what is acceptable with respect to “free speech” can be found in Matt Canavan’s own eloquent words explaining a fiery exchange with the PM over a coal-fired generator project:
“I passionately and forcefully argue for the great things the coal industry does for our nation,” said the Minister for Coal, following reports that he had shouted the following at the Prime Minister:
“This is fucked!”
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