We have been discussing the horrific rollback of environmental protections in Australia under Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Now, Abbott’s government and industry allies are pushing for a change in competition laws to ban on campaigns against companies on the grounds that they are selling products that damage the environment.
Parliamentary secretary for agriculture, Richard Colbeck, said that there are votes to ban “secondary boycotts” that have been successful in targeting companies using old growth wood and causing other environmental abuses. Colbeck announced that “I do think there is an appetite in the government for changing these laws.”
The Australian Forest Products Association and other companies have demanded an end to such boycotts so that they cannot be punished for being bad actors in the environment in the view of public interest groups. Such secondary boycotts have targeted over-fishing and logging operations like the “NoHarveyNo” campaign by GetUp! and Markets for Change. Colbeck calls such groups as running “dishonest” that harm these companies. Environmentalists in Tasmania have been fighting to protect their threatened areas — some of the most spectacular and pristine areas in the world.
Colbeck and the Abbott government want to increase the power of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to police general claims made by environmental groups about particular types of products “to ensure that they are truthful”. It is an obviously attack not only on environmental protections but free speech protections. Colbeck wants to ban any “specific business-focused or market-focused campaign” based on assertions that are declared untrue.
The Abbott government has long portrayed corporations as the victims as people object to the lifting of protections from forests and species in Australia. He previously announced a campaign against what he called “the green ideology” and pledged to hand over key positions to industry officials. Grahame Turk, chairman of the National Seafood Industry Alliance, continued this victimization theme and called for “a level playing field to stop these environmental groups promulgating misinformation about seafood industry.”
The level playing field involves using the government to police and threaten free speech and association in protection of corporate interests. It is other worldly to see the series of anti-environmental and anti-free speech measures coming out of Australia — a nation with a long history of protections in both areas. It is a legacy that few people would want to create but it is clearly the legacy that Abbott wants to leave with a country stripped of many of its natural and constitutional grandeurs.