(AU) Morrison Is Being Transparently Political In Targeting Climate Groups

Sydney Morning HeraldDavid Crowe

Condemning a protest is easy. Passing a new law to limit free speech is another matter altogether.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is being transparently political in targeting climate groups like Extinction Rebellion in the hope he can tap into a resentment against activists who disrupt everyday life.
A blockade during a protest against the International Mining and Resources Conference in Melbourne. Credit: AAP

But he is yet to prove he can act on his tough talk when his own side of politics is supposed to stand for individual liberty. Would his own party room approve a law that forbids someone organising a boycott?Isn't it free speech to urge your fellow citizens to ban a product or boycott a store or transfer their savings to a bank that will not lend to a controversial coal mine?
Morrison uses hard language that borrows from the populism of US President Donald Trump without going all the way. He also takes a lesson from former prime minister John Howard in starting a culture war and wedging an opponent.
Perhaps it can work. Morrison succeeded with a similar ploy in September when the Senate passed a bill to outlaw "farm invaders" including vegan activists who disrupted beef and poultry farmers.
The bill divided the Labor caucus because many believed existing trespass laws were strong enough, so Morrison was able to wedge his opponents. The law was eventually passed after the Labor leadership worried about the political risk of rejecting the bill, so Morrison gained a second victory.
No wonder he wants to try again.
But something is different this time. The government has a complaint but not a solution. It cannot say which law it would change and how it would change it. It merely says it is "early days" and the proposal would be worked on next year.
The Australian Forest Products Association has an idea, at least. It says the best step is to change Section 45DD of the Competition and Consumer Act, which forbids secondary boycotts by unions but explicitly allows them for "environmental protection" or "consumer protection".
Prime Minister to outlaw extremist demonstrations which cause chaos.

Prime Minister to outlaw extremist demonstrations which cause chaos.

This sounds simple. But how far should it go? What happens if farmers want to boycott a company drilling for coal seam gas on their land? Perhaps a law designed to wedge Labor could divide Liberals and Nationals as well.
There is no great philosophy to underpin this plan. Morrison talked on Friday of the danger of "progressivism" but this merely sounded like former prime minister Kevin Rudd complaining about "neo-liberalism" a decade ago. These are the labels of lazy arguments. Politicians scale the summit of the bubble when they wage war against "isms" like these.
For now, Morrison can talk tough every time Extinction Rebellion makes the news, while challenging Labor to make up its mind on his (unspecified) new law. This means the protesters will probably help the Prime Minister every time they stop traffic.
Whether the politics work for Morrison cannot be known until he puts the law to Parliament. Few issues splinter the conservatives like free speech, as the Section 18C racial discrimination dispute showed five years ago. The tougher Morrison talks, the harder it becomes to put his pledge into law.


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