This would be a great change. Environmental groups should be constrained from putting out misleading and deceptive information. They should also be bound by the laws related to secondary boycotts, which need tightening in any case.
By the way, I think I am developing a bit of crush on Richard Colebeck, Tasmanian Coalition member and Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture. I had to drop Angus Taylor after he took that ridiculous position on GrainCorp/ADM.
Here is the story:
Coalition MPs and industry groups are using a review of competition laws to push for a ban on campaigns against companies on the grounds that they are selling products that damage the environment, for example by using old-growth timber or overfished seafood.
The parliamentary secretary for agriculture, Richard Colbeck, said the backbench rural committee and “quite a number in the ministry” want to use the review to remove an exemption for environmental groups from the consumer law ban on so-called “secondary boycotts”.
“I do think there is an appetite in the government for changing these laws,” Colbeck said.
The exemption also applies to campaigns related to “consumer protection” but Colbeck said he would not be seeking to change that provision.
The government announced last week a “root and branch review” of competition policy headed by the economist Professor Ian Harper.
Groups including the Australian Forest Products Association and parts of the seafood industry are also preparing submissions to the review arguing that environmental campaigns against companies selling products made from native timbers or “unsustainable” fishing amount to a “secondary boycott” and should be unlawful.
Colbeck said the change was aimed at campaigns like the “NoHarveyNo” campaign by GetUp! and Markets for Change, which is demanding the furniture retailer Harvey Norman stop selling products made from native forests.
“They are saying the forest industry in Tasmania is destroying native forests and that is clearly a dishonest campaign,” Colbeck claimed.
Markets for Change campaigns against companies it says are marketing products, like flooring, made from “unsustainably logged native forests”. As well as Harvey Norman it has targeted Forty Winks, Fantastic Furniture, Freedom and Boral.
Tasmanian campaigners also successfully lobbied international customers of logging companies Gunns and Ta Ann during the long-running dispute over the state’s forestry industry.
But the new state Liberal government intends to undo the forest “peace deal”, expand sawlog production and stop environmental campaigns through tough new state laws aimed at protesters. It is also lobbying the federal government for a change to competition laws to stop market-based campaigns.
Colbeck said he would be suggesting a further change to competition law to increase the power of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to police general claims made by environmental groups about particular types of products “to ensure that they are truthful”.
He denied his views contradicted the government’s stand in favour of freedom of speech.
“They can say what they like, they can campaign about what they like, they can have a point of view, but they should not be able to run a specific business-focused or market-focused campaign, and they should not be able to say things that are not true,” he said.
“If businesses make a claim they can be challenged. If someone makes a claim about their products there needs to be some recourse to enforce accuracy.”
The Greens leader, Christine Milne, said it would “shock Australians to see the lengths that the Abbott government will go to to cover the fact that they intend to log forests listed as world heritage areas”.
“Freedom of speech seems to be a very selective tern for Tony Abbott, it doesn’t apply to trying to silence people trying to tell the truth in international markets about the sourcing of timber.
“He is trying to silence the messenger in order to create a market that would otherwise have none.”
A spokesman for AFPA said the organisation would be making a submission to the competition review because “as a matter of principle we believe Australian businesses should have the right to conduct their lawful business, both here and overseas”.
Groups like GetUp! and Markets for Change are currently exempt from section 45D of the Consumer and Competition Act which prohibits actions that stop a third person buying goods from another.
Section 45DA provides the exemption from the so-called “secondary boycott provisions” if their actions are “substantially related to environmental or consumer protection”.
Grahame Turk, chairman of the National Seafood Industry Alliance, said his industry would make a submission to the competition policy review arguing both that market-based environmental campaigns should be considered secondary boycotts and that the ACCC should police the veracity of what green groups say about particular industries.
“We need a level playing field to stop these environmental groups promulgating misinformation about seafood industry. The truth is most of the Australian seafood industry is highly sustainable … but they are still able to make these claims without any recourse,” Turk said.
“I don’t believe that there are any unsustainable fishing practices currently approved by federal or state legislation in Australia.”
A spokesman for the minister for small business, Bruce Bilson, said: “The government is aware of the view in Tasmania that the secondary boycott provisions, and some other provisions of the competition law relating to false and misleading representations, should more readily accommodate campaigns involving non-government organisations.
“The ‘root and branch’ review of competition represents an opportunity for those views to be put forward and considered in an objective way, mindful that there are differing legal opinions about the reach of the current provisions.”