Australia’s prime minister has been accused of dismantling democracy after he vowed to ban environmental groups from campaigning for boycotts of businesses that collaborate with the fossil fuel industry.
Scott Morrison told a resources industry conference in Brisbane, Queensland, that his government was developing legislation to outlaw the “indulgent and selfish practices” of protest groups who targetted resources projects.
"We must protect our economy from this great threat," he said.
Climate change activists have applied pressure to banks to not finance the controversial Adani coal project in Queensland, and have targetted other companies supplying goods and services to the proposed mine.
Mr Morrison made it clear the new legislation would punish consumer activists – and other protesters – rather than penalise companies who respond to their campaigns.
Adam Bandt, a Greens Federal MP, said the proposed ban demonstrates that the government "is a direct threat to free speech and democracy".
"Instead of tackling the climate crisis, Scott Morrison is dismantling democracy," he said.
Zali Steggall, the independent federal MP who toppled former Prime Minister Tony Abbott to win his blue-ribbon conservative seat, asked: “Are we a free market democracy or Orwell’s 1984?”
Scott Ludlam, a former senator who was recently arrested at a climate change protest, said “the tactics they try to ban are the ones that are working”.
Nicholas Cowdery, president of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the Prime Minister’s plan was “totally contrary” to the right to freedom of expression and that existing laws were enough to deal with unruly conduct or assault, if protesters went so far.
"Issues such as climate change… encourage strong responses by citizens… Protest action may well increase if effective measures are not taken by commercial interests to address those issues. Citizens should not be criminalised for taking such action,” he said.
Australian governments both state and federal have a long history of passing laws restricting the right to protest.
In the past decade alone there have been several anti-activist laws passed, including at least five targeted at environmentalists and two specifically imposing severe penalties for interfering with the fossil fuels industry.
Queensland’s Labor government recently proposed significant prison terms and large fines for possessing “lock on” equipment often used by environmental protesters.