There's a lot of talk at the moment about freedom of
speech, and not all of it makes sense. The Federal Government wants
to relax the prohibitions on hate speech in the Racial
Discrimination Act, but at the same time it is calling for new laws
to restrict what environmentalists can say in public
The government wants to hold environmentalists accountable for
their claims when they're protesting against corporate conduct,
and it says that amending the Competition and Consumer Act is the
way to make it happen. Protesters who don't get their facts
straight are bad for business and bad for the economy.
Seems like a fair enough proposition. But we're not sure
that the plan will work.
The first part of the government's plan is to amend the CCA
rules about secondary boycotts. These are already prohibited but
there is an exception for boycotts with a purpose of environmental
protection. The plan is to remove the exception.
We don't think this will make much difference. The ban on
secondary boycotts doesn't apply to a lot of environmental
lobbying activity in the first place. It applies only to activity
which actually hinders or prevents the supply of goods or services.
It's a massive stretch to say that this would include an
advertising or social media campaign calling for a consumer
boycott. The courts haven't considered this type of example but
we don't think it's a contravention of the CCA. Tying
yourself to a tree might be a different story.
The next part of the government's plan is to extend the
operation of misleading or deceptive conduct laws to cover
environmental lobbying. As things stand,lobbyists often fall
outside the application of the rules because they're not acting
'in trade or commerce'. Any move to widen the scope outside
'trade or commerce' to include conduct of the protest
variety would be truly radical and have all sorts of unforeseen
consequences. And it'd be a truly bizarre thing for a free
speech-loving Liberal government to do.
Maybe the law's not the answer to this particular question.
Businesses can fight fire with fire and respond to
environmentalists with media campaigns of their own. And social
media can hold the lobbyists accountable for what they say.
We do not disclaim anything about this article. We're
quite proud of it really.
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