SYDNEY – Australia’s pro-coal government threatened harsh new penalties against “apocalyptic” activism Friday as a global wave of climate protests has become increasingly disruptive for the country’s lucrative mining industry.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a peak mining body that his conservative government was seeking ways to legislate against activists engaged in “secondary boycotts,” or pressuring firms not to deal with the resources industry.
“We are working to identify serious mechanisms that can successfully outlaw these indulgent and selfish practices that threaten the livelihoods of fellow Australians,” Morrison said at an event in the mineral-rich state of Queensland.
“The right to protest does not mean there is an unlimited license to disrupt people’s lives and disrespect your fellow Australians.”
Morrison has been ratcheting up the rhetoric since his surprise election victory early this year when a political gamble ahead of the vote to green-light a huge new coal mine in Queensland is considered to have paid off.
The controversial Adani mine has long been a lightning rod for climate activism in Australia, with environmentalists calling out businesses that engage with the firm.
Morrison labeled groups that call for such boycotts as an “insidious threat” to the economy that his government would not allow to “go unchecked.”
“There are new threats to the future of the resources sector that have emerged,” he said.
“A new breed of radical activism is the on the march. Apocalyptic in tone. Brooks no compromise. All or nothing. Alternative views — not permitted,” said the PM who once brandished a lump of coal in Parliament in support of the industry.
Morrison’s government has steadfastly rejected calls for greater action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, insisting Australia will meet the targets set out in global agreements without undermining its crucial mining sector.
Last month he snubbed a U.N. climate summit in New York after it emerged he would not be invited to speak for lack of new climate announcements.
“Australia won’t write a blank cheque with its economy” to fight climate change “which requires action from around the globe,” he said Friday.
Morrison was responding to escalating protests by climate activists, thousands of whom rallied across the country in October in as part of the global “Extinction Rebellion” movement.
Climate demonstrations turned violent this week when dozens of protesters were arrested in clashes with police outside an international mining conference in Melbourne.
Morrison has also targeted animal welfare activists labelled “vegan protesters” with the tough new laws targeting those found trespassing on farms introduced in September.
His hard-line Home Affairs minister, Peter Dutton, also threatened new actions to crack down on climate protesters who he said Friday were “completely against our way of life.”
“For many of them they don’t even believe in democracy,” he said, suggesting demonstrators should be forced to pay for police deployments used to counter their protests.
The Human Rights Law Center on Friday defended the legitimacy of boycott campaigns, and said Morrison’s announcement was “deeply concerning.”
“To protect our democracy and help ensure a better future for all Australians, governments should be strengthening our rights to come together and protest, not weakening them,” the rights group’s executive director, Hugh de Kretser, said in a statement.