Albanese warns on free speech over Morrison plan for protests


“I accept that the government, of course, cannot force one Australian company to provide a service to another,” Mr Morrison said.

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“But will this trend extend to other sectors that have a significant carbon footprint? Will we start to see similar boycotts of on and offshore gas projects and power generation?

“Let me assure you, this is not something my government intends to allow to go unchecked.

“We are working to identify a series of mechanisms that can successfully outlaw these indulgent and selfish practices that threaten the livelihoods of fellow Australians.”

Mr Albanese did not say Labor would vote against the bill given there was no detail to the proposal, but he dismissed Mr Morrison’s general pledge.

“This is a guy who speaks about the bubble. Well, if this wasn’t a thought bubble, I don’t know what is,” Mr Albanese said on Sunday, adding that Mr Morrison had criticised businesses who backed issues like marriage equality.

“He now suggests that somehow, it’s the role of government to stop individuals campaigning about corporate behaviour. It is very difficult to see how that could happen.

“People have a right to protest. They should do that peacefully. They should do that in a way that actually gets support for their cause. And, quite clearly, some of the people who have been demonstrating have alienated people.

“And it doesn’t get support for a cause to stop people, for example, being able to get to and from work, is not a sensible way for people to protest. But the fact is that in a democracy, people’s right to express their views, including to corporations, is a part of our democratic system.”

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said the government would approach the issue in a “cautious and careful manner”.

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“Extreme activists should not be able to disrupt the freedom of other Australians to undertake their businesses and their lives,” he said on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Thailand on Sunday.

“Of course people can choose to shop where they want, invest where they want – they are the rights that everybody has as Australians and they are fundamental freedoms.

“However, ultimately those who seek to run their own business, go about their daily lives, ought not be unnecessarily disrupted by others taking action.”

Labor spokesman for industry Brendan O’Connor said while he had “no tolerance for groups that destroy property” or “use any form of violence”, the announcement was “a stunt by the Prime Minister”.

“People have to respect the law but we are a democracy and the right to protest is an important element of democracy – and it seems the Prime Minister has lost that,” Mr O’Connor said.

“Consumers have the right to choose. And if they don’t like the behaviour of a particular company, it’s not for a government to deny the right of a consumer to make a choice as to where they want to buy the product.”

Law Council of Australia president Arthur Moses, SC, said the peak group would “carefully consider” any proposed legislation and whether it struck the right balance in protecting legitimate rights without stifling public dialogue.

“It will be necessary to ensure that any new measure does not impinge on the implied freedom of political communication and go beyond what is necessary for the effective operation of a system of representative and responsible government,” Mr Moses said.

“But it seems rather odd that at a time when the government is championing what it considers appropriate legislation to protect religious freedoms in Australia that it is looking at implementing measures that may stifle the right to freedom of speech and freedom of choice on environmental issues.”

Professor Graeme Orr, an expert in the law of politics at the University of Queensland, said secondary boycott laws were introduced to deal with industrial action, where a union organised employees in one workplace to boycott a second company.

“For ordinary citizens to encourage people to put pressure on, say, their banks – by threatening not to bank with them unless they stop working with, say, coal mining companies – that is a form of the freedom of political communication which our constitution protects,” he said.

With Dana McCauley, Yan Zhuang and Clancy Yeates

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