Warning sounded over secondary boycotts

Matt Coughlan
Outlawing consumer choice amounts to a clam down on freedom of expression, Ben Oquist says

The Morrison government has been warned its plan to crack down on secondary boycotts could threaten freedom of political communication.

Left-leaning think tank The Australia Institute has released new research finding the significant legislative reform required for the coalition to keep its promise on boycotts.

"Attempts to outlaw consumer choice amount to a clampdown on freedom of expression and personal liberty in Australia," the institute's executive director Ben Oquist said.

The report says harsher secondary boycott laws would limit customers from exercising their conscience in the marketplace.

It also warns companies could be encouraged to outsource, while wholesalers and primary producers could violate social licence with limited consequences.

The Australian Conservation Foundation, Oxfam, Uniting Church, Market Forces and climate change activists 350.org have also called for Mr Morrison to rule out new secondary boycott laws.

The group will present a united front on Tuesday demanding the government back down on its threat to make new rules for secondary boycotts.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison last month flagged his government would pursue laws to stamp out practices he claims are threatening the livelihoods of Australians after anti-coal demonstrations.

Mr Oquist also referred to Nationals frontbenchers Matt Canavan, who called for Queenslanders to desert Westpac, and David Littleproud, a critic of big supermarkets' milk prices.

"The fact that government MPs call for boycotts themselves shows us that they are an essential part of the political debate," he said.

He said outlawing consumer protests would require the creation of new offences and the possible removal of protections in the Competition and Consumer Act.

"Such wholesale redrafting of the rights to communication and protest in Australia would be an unfortunate overreaction and an affront to the free speech on which Australian democracy is built," Mr Oquist said.