Push for boycott ban reveals economic double standard


Young man hold's a placard that declares 'Don't buy'A review of competition laws is providing an opportunity for the Coalition Government and industry groups to push for a ban against environmental boycotts. If the exemption on secondary boycotts is dropped, then campaigns against industry practices that are seen to be environmentally damaging, such as logging old-growth forests, will become illegal.

It is always a wonder to behold when economic liberals start tinkering with the conditions in which their corporate allies conduct business. According to the parliamentary secretary for agriculture, Richard Colbeck, Environmental groups 'can say what they like', campaign about what they like' and '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 goes on to suggest there is currently no recourse to 'enforce accuracy'.

It is a strange protectionism that portrays entire industries as victims, defenceless against the barrage of readily available information — to which their public relations and marketing divisions can contribute, by the way. It turns out that the free flow of information cannot be so free as to disrupt capital.

It would also seem that the only legitimate choices within a free market are ones unimpeded by things like ethics, conscience or even unease. That seems to be the gist of the Federal Government response to the Sydney Biennale boycott. This campaign was instigated by pro-asylum seeker activists who had drawn the dots between Transfield, the key sponsor for the arts festival, and the contractor for Manus Island detention centre.

In an interview with ABC Radio National, Arts Minister and Attorney-General George Brandis said 'I don't think that arts companies should reject bona fide sponsorship from commercially sound, prospective partners on political grounds.' He goes so far as to endorse moves to block government funding to arts organisations that refuse corporate sponsorship. In case it still isn't clear, the principal legal adviser to the Federal Cabinet and foremost officer of the law is telling us, 'Shut up and take the money.'

It would appear that money as a lever in the market is not meant to be wielded by ordinary folk. Many on the right side of politics who are hostile toward boycotts regard them as radical and misguided, anomalies in the free market rather an outcome of the conditions that they prosecute. Such hostility reveals that while they think it reasonable for the elite to direct or withhold resources as they will, it is preposterous for artists, environmentalists and consumers to do that. They should not be allowed.

Take, for instance, the shutdown of a government website that rated food products according to their nutritive value. It seems an innocuous enough undertaking, approved by state health authorities. But according to the murmurs of approval that met its demise, providing information infantilises consumers.

The argument does not bear scrutiny. It would be a shallow agency that rests on superficial knowledge, insulated from third-party reviews or objective assessments. Who benefits from that? The reality is that someone has to lose when it comes to the till, and industries and companies would rather it be you. This is par for the course, but we should hope that governments don't then foster hostile conditions for critique and conscientious choice. If indeed this one truly believes that the individual is sovereign.

Fatima MeashamFatima Measham is a Melbourne-based social commentator who contributes regularly to Eureka Street. She tweets as @foomeister .

'Boycott' image from Shutterstock

Topic tags: Fatima Measham, Sydney Biennale, George Brandis, Richard Colbeck, boycotts



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Existing comments

What ever you do dont let those "ethical peasants" have a say and block Australia from being open for business. Next you will want to regulate the superannuation industry and we can't have that.
John | 15 April 2014

When H.G.Wells predicted the arrival of machines that thought like men, G.K.Chesterton noted that this had not happened, but something more scary had;- men that thought like machines.- I wonder what he would say about politicians who deaden their hearts and replace them with cash-registers. This might help explain why there are so few women in the Cabinet; only women who think like them are accepted. There seems to be an unspoken conspiracy among leading politicians and media moguls to support each other by manipulating the minds of lesser lights by using 'spin' and by pandering to their self-serving interests, so that it seems 'right' to tax the poor and reward the rich.
Robert Liddy | 16 April 2014

Are radio 'shock jocks' to be allowed to say things which are untrue?
Richard Maddever | 16 April 2014

The public, the great unwashed, are such simpletons that they would not comprehend anything more complex than a three word phrase.
D. O'Connor | 18 April 2014

I basically agree with your complaint, Fatima. That's because boycotting is a perfectly acceptable voluntary activity on the free market. Indeed it's constitutive. Anyone who opposes it - right or left - is anti-market. Every time I buy a VB I'm per se boycotting Fosters and all other beers (and wines, etc). Legalise boycotting all round, I say. So: don't only allow environmental boycotts: repeal S45D of the TPA altogether and allow ALL boycotts, primary and secondary. Of course, to be consistent and fair, we must also allow the boycotting of boycotters themselves. So, while strikes (a temporary boycotting of service) should be totally legal without qualification, so also should be the sacking of strikers (a boycotting of those boycotting strikers). The issue of the Sydney Biennale is more complicated, given that taxpayers are being forced to fund its ideological positions whether they agree with them or not - an excellent argument abandoning all funding from consolidated revenue to the arts, btw. But sure: the Biennale chooses to boycott certain donors for its own motives. Fine! So, why is the Left enraged when the government chooses to (possible) boycott funding of the Biennale? Both the left and the right are hopelessly incoherent on the right to boycott.
HH | 21 April 2014

There is no debate in our home. If it's toxic, it's a magnet moment. For some time we've had fun developing quite a collection of home made product boycott magnets living on fridge door. The grand kids do the building of widget thingy whilst we all discuss the reasoning of said banning of product. Research is some thing we all take part in online. All good fun.
Murphy | 23 April 2014


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