Australia’s pro-coal prime minister signals war on climate activism

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Photo from Morrison’s Facebook page.

Radical. Extreme. Anarchists: Scott Morrison’s choice of language Friday made it clear how he views some environmental protesters. Now the Australian prime minister is signaling he will legislate to stymie what he says is their threat to commercial decisions and the economy.

Morrison said his conservative government is considering how it can ban activists from pressuring companies not to do business with the mining industry and other sectors with a large carbon footprint.

The rhetoric signals the battle-lines are being drawn between environmental groups such as Extinction Rebellion and Morrison

“We are working to identify mechanisms that can successfully outlaw these indulgent and selfish practices that threaten the livelihoods of fellow Australians, especially in rural and regional areas,” Morrison said in the text of a speech to be delivered in the Queensland state capital, Brisbane.

“New threats to the future of the resources sector have emerged,” Morrison said. “A new breed of radical activism is on the march. Apocalyptic in tone. It brooks no compromise. It’s all or nothing.”

The rhetoric signals the battle-lines are being drawn between environmental groups such as Extinction Rebellion and Morrison, who wielded a lump of coal in parliament almost three years ago in a show of support for the nation’s second-largest export. The coal industry has been a flash-point for protesters in Australia, with Adani Power Ltd.’s proposed project in Queensland potentially opening up a new mining region in the country.

Australia is the world’s driest-inhabited continent and prone to devastating wild fires. While the government says it’s on target to meet its Paris emissions-reduction targets, critics say it’s not doing enough and the nation still derives the bulk of its energy from burning the fossil fuel.

Extinction rebellion

As Extinction Rebellion-linked rallies gather momentum worldwide, activism appears to be on the rise in Australia too. Queensland’s state government is considering legislation to ban activists from attaching themselves to objects such as steel drums after a string of protests closed Brisbane streets. Executives attending a mining conference in Melbourne this week were heckled by activists, leading to arrests.

Resource companies including Adani have struggled to find financing for coal-fired projects as climate change risk impacts investment decisions. Banks, insurance companies and pension funds are under pressure from groups such as Market Forces to avoid financing environmentally damaging projects.

“Some of Australia’s largest businesses are now refusing to provide banking, insurance and consulting services to an increasing number of firms in the coal sector”

Australian prime minister

“Some of Australia’s largest businesses are now refusing to provide banking, insurance and consulting services to an increasing number of firms in the coal sector,” Morrison said, without identifying them.

He raised the prospect of other sectors being affected if environmental groups pressure companies to deny services to gas projects, abattoirs and airlines, for example.

“Is that the sort of economy we want? Is that the sort of country we want?” Morrison said. “Let me assure you this is not something my government intends to allow to go unchecked.”

About 30 members of a group called Frontline Action on Coal protested on Friday at a Queensland office of a construction company that is contracted by Adani.

“If we had a prime minister who actually cared for the well-being of Australian people and ecosystems, we wouldn’t need to be lobbying individual businesses to refuse work on Adani’s destructive mine,” the group’s spokesman, Andy Paine, said in an emailed statement.

Climate threat

GetUp, a left-leaning lobby group with more than a million members, said Morrison’s speech showed the government is prepared to punish activists demanding concerted action against the threats of climate change.

“People are fed up with politics and looking to their own day to day lives for ways they can create change when the government isn’t providing solutions,” GetUp’s Head of Campaigns, Emily Mulligan, said on Friday. “It doesn’t have a plan for the climate crisis, so it’s cracking down on activists who want nothing more than the government to take the issue seriously.”

(By Jason Scott)

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