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Australia: Civil liberties groups and business speak out over PM's proposal to ban protesters boycotting companies

Civil society groups and business speak out against proposals of the Morrison government to stop protesters boycotting companies they oppose. 

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25 November 2019

Global Compact Network Australia describes voices of campaigners as "critical" & calls for open civic space

Author: Kylie Porter, Global Compact Network Australia

“Statement: Supporting an open Australian civic space for all stakeholders”, 21 November 2019

An open civic space…is not only good for a democratic society, it is good for business…, [providing] an “early warning system” for business to better understand the concerns that various stakeholders may have about their operations, allowing them to manage risks in full consultation with the people most likely to be affected. It also provides the space for multi-stakeholder dialogue and the ability to forge partnerships for more sustainable solutions…

[Global Compact Network Australia] does not condone violent protests and…understand[s] the pressures that business…may feel when they are the subject of a campaign. However, the voices of campaigners are one of many critical voices that need to be heard as we transition and decarbonise our economies by 2050. [Global Compact Network Australia] works alongside diverse groups…to support dialogue that enhances responsible business practices around human rights, labour rights, environment and anti-corruption. We know that to bring these groups together the civic space must be safeguarded…and…we provide a forum where we can discuss the solutions that will enable us to reach more equitable outcomes...

[We] encourage…respectful dialogue and engagement between business, civil society,…human rights campaigners, and government…, call on all businesses to consider what policies and practices they can implement to ensure they are respecting the human rights of all campaigners, in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights…., call on business to consider…mechanisms they can use to listen more intensely to the views of their [stakeholders and]…shareholders…[about]…how business should manage…risks [and] encourage governments everywhere to respect and protect the internationally recognised human rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, association and expression…

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11 November 2019

Aberdeen Standard Investments, Westpac & CommBank rebuff government’s attack on the role of environmental groups

Author: Ben Butler, The Guardian

"Global funds management giant rejects Scott Morrison’s attack on activist investors", 8 November 2019

[Aberdeen] Standard Investments has [rebuffed]…the government’s attack on activist investors and the environmental movement. The UK’s biggest listed fund manager… defended the role of environmental groups…accused…of pressurising companies…[This] intervention…comes after bank bosses…told a parliamentary inquiry they did not feel bullied by environmental grounds and rejected the need for changes to the law…

[Morrison] attacked “an escalating trend towards a new form of secondary boycott…”...in which environmental groups “are targeting businesses and firms who provide goods or services to firms they don’t like, especially in the resources sector… some our largest corporations should listen and engage with their quiet shareholders, not just the noisy ones”. An Aberdeen spokeswoman said the company had a “critical role to play in financing the transition to a low-carbon economy, and the adaptation to climate change impacts…”.

The Westpac chief executive, Brian Hartzer, and his counterpart at the Commonwealth Bank, Matt Comyn, both denied they felt bullied by climate activists. [Hartzer]…said [Westpac] made its decisions “…independently” [and] The Commonwealth Ban[k]…said that [it’s] “experience has been that engaging…environmental groups has been to our benefit”.

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5 November 2019

'We are all accountable': Atlassian chief slams Morrison protest crackdown

Author: David Crowe, Sydney Morning Herald

Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes has dismissed the Morrison government's plan to stop protesters boycotting companies they oppose, declaring all Australians had a "basic right" to try to force a business to change its behaviour.

Mr Cannon-Brookes broke with other business leaders to attack the government proposal on the grounds that Australia had a "proud history" of protest on women's rights, the decriminalisation of homosexuality and opposing wars in Vietnam and Iraq...

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5 November 2019

Morrison's boycott plan sparks free-speech furore

Author: David Crowe, Sydney Morning Herald

2 November 2019.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has sparked a furore over free speech…vowing to draft new laws to ban protesters from boycotting companies, prompting...[c]ivil liberties groups [to warn] of "wanton infringement[s]" of individual rights under the plan to stop environmental groups targeting companies…

Nicholas Cowdery [(NSW Council for Civil Liberties)] said Mr Morrison's plan was "totally contrary" to the right to freedom of expression and that existing laws could deal with unruly conduct or assault….“Citizens should not be criminalised for taking such action”. [J]essie Taylor [(Liberty Victoria)] warned of an "extraordinary incursion into free speech"…“[this] is legally questionable and morally dubious”. The Human Rights Law Centre said the…announcement was another sign of an “undemocratic trend” to undermine the right to protest…“at the behest of big companies”.  

Mr Morrison declared he was working…to outlaw the "indulgent and selfish practices" of protest groups who tried to stop major resources projects…“we will take our time to get this right…[but] we must protect our economy from this great threat”. [E]nvironmental campaigners have put pressure on banks to halt lending to the Adani coal mine in Queensland, while [suppliers] to the project…have also been subject to consumer activism. Mr Morrision…[made] it clear his new law would punish the protesters rather than the companies that [give] into their pressure. Business leaders backed the proposal and voiced frustration with groups including Extinction Rebellion,…Jennifer Westacott [(Business Council of Australia)]…[saying] that creating jobs and protecting the environment were not mutually exclusive. But Altassian co founder, Mike Cannon-Brookes, said… “protests are because [the government] is doing nothing meaningful”. Labour[‘s] Mark Dreyfus said Mr Morrison was trying to "distract attention" from the government's failures…

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