Crackdown on Protestors: Another Blow to Democracy in Australia
Screenshot from the ABC

In the wake of the recent protests around Australia for Extinction Rebellion in Melbourne against the International Mining and Resources Convention, Scott Morrison has taken a breathtakingly authoritarian stance. In fact, it’s so authoritarian that it has caught headlines around the world, reaching so far as the New York Times.

Scott Morrison has called the protestors of the last few weeks ‘anarchists’ (making it painfully obvious that he has no idea what an anarchist is) and said they:

want to tell you where to live, what job you can have, what you can say and what you can think – and tax you more for the privilege of all of those instructions.

Morrison apparently has missed the irony of his own party’s repeated incursions into civil liberties in Australia. Telling people what internet sites they can and can’t visit and who they can associate with are just two of these incursions. The Tasmanian Liberal Party has already tried to enact laws preventing environmental activism as well.

But that is beside the point. Protestors at large are not attempting to tell you what to say or what to think, they are trying to get you to see a message that is either not being acted upon in a manner befitting the problem or is being ignored by the elite and media entirely.

For the most part in our current situation the Climate Crisis is that problem. The warnings have been made by scientists for decades now. The Charney Report was released 4 decades ago, and the evidence in favour of Climate Change has been growing ever more insurmountable ever since. Of the scientists actively producing material on climate change 97% of them are in agreement that human actions in emitting carbon are fuelling the climate crisis.

While that is so world leaders have, other than spending a great deal of time deliberating their actions, done little to nothing in the way of substantive action. Where there are countries that appear to be taking positive action, these steps forward have been made alongside outsourcing their emissions to developing nations, effectively cancelling each action out. This is evidenced by the fact that as a global society, we are still producing record amounts of carbon, despite efforts to de-carbonise the energy sector.

In addition to attempting to de-rail the protestor’s narrative, Morrison has also flagged that his party are threatening to curb activism by preventing disruptive boycott action.

Together with the attorney-general [Christian Porter], we are working to identify mechanisms that can successfully outlaw these indulgent and selfish practices that threaten the livelihoods of fellow Australians.

These comments have been made after the International Mining Conference in Melbourne, where protestors blocked the entrance to the conference in an apparent (I cannot find a single statement of intent for these protestors, most likely because they are from multiple groups) attempt to send a message to the mining sector at large.

This message of disrupting mining in general is not going to be received well by many in Australia or around the world (if that is their point at all). Mining is something that has enabled the technological advance of humanity throughout the centuries and millennia. Mining provides the raw materials for the renewable technology so necessary to reform our energy systems and reduce a large portion of the world’s carbon emissions. In short, a blanket boycott on mining (secondary or otherwise) is pretty counter-productive.

That isn’t to excuse the obviously criminally insane stance of continuing to expand the mining and burning of fossil fuels nor is it to excuse the active lobbying that some companies undertake to remove environmental regulations, lowering the standards that they need to leave the environment in to simply advance their profits in the short term.

But whether a protest or a message is well liked shouldn’t form the basis for legislating against activism, after all, boycotts and protests have achieved major leaps forward in Australia and around the world. Secondary boycotts have been organised by Australia’s own Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest against slavery and also played a part in ending apartheid.

Morrison has also claimed that the ideology of the protestors “brooks no compromise. It’s all or nothing. Alternative views are not permitted”. While he attempts to legislate to silence a view alternative to his own. He is also trying to enshrine protections for religious freedoms, all the while attempting to silence environmentalists, adding a dimension of obvious double-standards to the whole affair.

Currently, Australians are protected from action by the government in relation to secondary boycotts in relation to environmental issues (and consumer protection issues). But that could be changed by a simple change to Australia’s Competition and Consumer laws.

These are dangerous times for Australian freedom of speech and expression. The Tasmanian Liberal government has already had one of it’s anti protest laws struck down by the High Court, do we really need to have the same at a federal level?

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