I have seen two very unusual groups of people become fellow travellers of the IPA this weekend:
The risk to free speech from a clampdown on secondary boycotts was clearly articulated by the then-director of policy at the Institute of Public Affairs, Simon Breheny, who said: “Freedom of speech is vitally important for a properly functioning economy. Liberal democracies should never be in the game of clamping down on an individual’s freedom to express their values in the choices they make through the market. Advocating for or against a particular company’s practices is an important part of that equation.”
Mr O’Connor noted Tony Abbott attempted to bring in secondary boycott provisions when he was prime minister, but the laws went nowhere and were opposed by the right-wing Institute of Public Affairs.
I hope the membership team at the IPA get some membership packs to the Australia Institute and Labor Party.
But – as always when dealing with the left – you need to check the original source yourself. What else did Simon say (emphasis added):
The federal government’s proposal to further limit secondary boycotts would be a restriction on freedom of speech, but environmental activists are also wrong to ask for special treatment.
Secondary boycotts in Australia are already illegal. In the first instance all the Morrison government should do is create equality before the law. Remove the exemptions for environmental groups.
Then we can, if we really want to, have a debate about the merits of all secondary boycott laws. There are two points I would like to make about Simon Breheny’s argument:
- I think he confused himself in his argument. In his free speech argument he is describing a primary boycott. If you don’t like company X and want to organise a consumer boycott of that company that is a free speech issue. This occurs on the demand side of the economy. Secondary boycotts occur when individuals attempt to organise a boycott of company Y who is a supplier to company X in order to influence company X. This occurs on the supply side of the economy. This is a producer boycott. (If you don’t like my argument below about free speech and violence, then reflect that supply side conspiracies tend to be illegal under competition law).
- Secondary boycotts are not free speech issues at all. If I say to a politician, “If you don’t support policy X, I will not vote for you at the next election” that is a free speech issue. If I say to a politician, “If you don’t support policy X, I will punch you on the nose” that is a threat of violence. Nobody intelligent confuses those two situations.
Suppressing violence is a legitimate function of government in a liberal society. If you don’t believe me read the words of Ludwig von Mises:
One must be in a position to compel the person who will not respect the lives, health, personal freedom, or private property of others to acquiesce in the rules of life in society. This is the function that the liberal doctrine assigns to the state: the protection of property, liberty, and peace.
Brendan O’Connor makes the same mistake as does Simon:
“I have no tolerance for groups that destroy property or use any form of violence. That is unconscionable conduct. But consumers have the right to choose. And if they don’t like the behaviour of a particular company, it is not for the government to deny the right of a consumer the choice as to whether they want to buy their product,” Mr O’Connor said.
He is talking about a primary boycott, a consumer boycott, not a secondary boycott, a producer boycott.