Tasmanian Times

Environment

Gunns and writs

Richard Ackland:

As much as companies which are the subject of protest might be tempted, it is usually folly to trust the law as a weapon to bludgeon detractors into submission.

Geoffrey Hills:

Many of the green activists and politicians being sued by forestry company, Gunns Ltd, in the Supreme Court of Victoria have claimed that the action is an assault on free speech. That claim is an attack upon the integrity of the Supreme Court and Australia’s legal processes. If the Greens and their supporters are confident that their campaign against Gunns has been conducted lawfully, they should welcome the opportunity to try the facts before an impartial tribunal.

……………………………….

McLibel case a signpost for Gunns action
By Richard Ackland
February 25, 2005

What an utterly hopeless decision it was 15 years ago by McDonald’s in Britain and the American parent to start libel proceedings against a couple of penniless London greenies over the distribution of longwinded but rude leaflets critical of the company’s delicious quarter pounders.

And,

As much as companies which are the subject of protest might be tempted, it is usually folly to trust the law as a weapon to bludgeon detractors into submission.

Litigation has an unsettling propensity to take on an uncontrollable life of its own. The Tasmanian timber company Gunns, which has launched several actions against 20 defendants in the Victorian Supreme Court, might be sobered by the McLibel example.

Gunns is seeking damages of $6.4 million for disruption to its woodchipping and logging operations. Some of the defendants are as poor as Steel and Morris. Maybe the plaintiffs are confident that our courts would be untroubled by the idea that there could be an “inequality of arms”.

Gunns alleges the protesters interfered with its contractual operations and indulged in “corporate vilification”. The writ runs to 216 pages, foreshadowing proceedings of great complexity, cost and length.

The issue for the company’s shareholders is whether, at the end of it all, they’ll emerge better off or at least better off than their counterparts at McDonald’s.

The full SMH article:
McLibel case a signpost for Gunns action

………………………………

Gunns Ltd: legitimate protest or economic sabotage?
By Geoffrey Hills – posted Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Many of the green activists and politicians being sued by forestry company, Gunns Ltd, in the Supreme Court of Victoria have claimed that the action is an assault on free speech. That claim is an attack upon the integrity of the Supreme Court and Australia’s legal processes. If the Greens and their supporters are confident that their campaign against Gunns has been conducted lawfully, they should welcome the opportunity to try the facts before an impartial tribunal.

The activists who have reason to worry are those for whom the campaign against Gunns has ceased to be a legitimate attempt to advance the environmental cause and has instead assumed the character of blind, almost pathological, hatred for Gunns and for corporations in general.

Green activists come in many hues but it is this type of activist – the same as those who lobbed bricks through Starbucks’ windows in Seattle – who are themselves trampling upon the rights of others in the community.

Australians thankfully have every right to express their views about environmental policy but the limit of the right to free expression is where it starts to impinge on the rights of others. Just as anti-vilification legislation limits free speech to protect the rights of minorities, tort law promotes the smooth exchange of land, goods and services by protecting the rights of Australians to hold property and to engage in commercial exchange mediated by contracts.

The full Online Opinion link:
Gunns Ltd: legitimate protest or economic sabotage

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Dave Groves

    March 2, 2005 at 12:39 am

    Gidday S Mavrohalis.

    Hope all is fair and just in your world.

    As another reader has kindly pointed out, I have a lot of motivation at present to write.

    Like Barnaby Drake and countless people I am involved with, I also feel a sense of injustice.

    I have seen our “justice system” at work, and I am sceptical to say the least.

    There is “more to the picture than meets the eye”, as they say.

    People write because they have a fire burning and for me and I assume you, it is basically good therapy.

    May your fire burn long and your search for truth continue.

    Cheers,
    Dave

  2. S. Mavrohalis

    March 1, 2005 at 11:17 am

    Just as an additional point – Barnaby Drake obviously has no idea what he’s talking about. No-one can be sued for bringing a law suit – if it’s legitimate, it’ll fly.

    To say that this is the death of the criticism is so blindly naive it’s laughable. The point is, you can say it if it’s truthful, but if you wilfully cause harm by telling lies, then you’ll answer for it – that’s the whole idea behind defamation!

  3. S. Mavrohalis

    March 1, 2005 at 11:09 am

    Good lord. I can’t say I’m surprised, but I really am disappointed at many of the opinions on this site.

    It may be harsh on the ‘Gunns 20’ but there’s a very real and important policy to be upheld by this case. And that is, that those who propose to enter the public forum with their views and opinions not only have a right to do so, but they have an inherent duty to ensure, to the best of their ability, that what they say is correct.

    I can’t believe that many commentariates here are so blinded by their prejudices that they just reel off the stock standard ‘death to freedom of speech’ line.

    Geoffrey Hills is right.

    If the Gunns 20 played it by the book, then they have very little to fear. Yes it will put a great strain on their life for a while, but many people go through equally harsh circumstances for their ideals. If they win, the court will have no hesitation in awarding costs against Gunns. So if they haven’t got the fortitude to stick up for their rights, then I wonder just how much of their ‘stance’ was impotent, unbacked screaming.

    All power to them if they win. In that case they have used legitimate, truthful techniques to achieve the best outcome for this society. If they lose, then I think they deserve everything they get. If they lose it means they have been so blinded by their bias and their morals so twisted that they’ve resorted to lying.

    I for one, am not willing to write such an action off because of some ridiculous pre-conceived notion that the ‘little man’ is always right. I don’t want to live in society in which we make decisions on who can scream the loudest, use the best shock tactics and distort the truth to their own advantage.

    It’s about time that society realises the power that the individual voice now has. And with that power comes a massive responsibility – the responsibility to inform yourself before seeking to inform others.

    I won’t excuse anyone for trying to sway the apathetic public by being the most devious. I wish to god those decrying the death of freedom of speech would pull their head out of their prejudices and realise that this can only strengthen the power of the truthful voice.

    It may hurt, but it has to be done.

  4. T. Thekathyil

    February 28, 2005 at 5:06 am

    If the Greens and their supporters are confident that their campaign against Gunns has been conducted lawfully, they should welcome the opportunity to try the facts before an impartial tribunal.

    To which one could only respond with a quote from Justice Kirby (The Age. 2005/02/27}: “If the Mabo case on Aboriginal land rights, the Capital Television case on constitutionally protected speech and the Dietrich case on rights to representation in criminal trials had come to the High Court in its present composition, the outcomes would probably have been different.”

    Dice could fall either way with the same set of facts.

  5. Barnaby Drake

    February 27, 2005 at 9:58 am

    Bill of Rights

    In 1985 a Bill of Rights, based on the UN ‘Declaration of Human Rights’ was passed in the Lower House and sent to the Senate. This Act never made it into law.

    Now, more than ever, we are in need of this Bill of Rights, as there is apparently no finite protection for the individual to express his or her opinions – a right which is enshrined in most democratic countries.

    The Constitution implies this right, but leaves it to Common Law to define it, which it has unfortunately failed to do.

    Since 1985 the situation has changed somewhat, in that we have had the advent of the Internet; and terrorism, illegal immigration and paedophilia have become issues. Given these exceptions, we are still in urgent need of some definition of the rights of the individual, relating to Freedom of Speech and Assembly.

    Without such legislation, we have the situation where corporate business can challenge and suppress legitimate public concern over their activities and use the courts to bolster their undesirable practices. This makes a mockery of the implied rights in the Constitution.

    I would like to draw your attention to the recent action of Gunns Pty. Ltd., who have taken out a Supreme Court writ against 20 defendants who have objected to their woodchipping activities and the destruction of old growth forests in Tasmania. The defendants are expressing a view held by 85 percent of the Tasmanian population as shown in the ‘Tasmania Together’ surveys, but have been singled out for a punitive action because they dared to speak out. Two of these defendants are actually serving members of Parliament, and it comes to a sorry plight when even responsible people such as these, in carrying out and adding substance to their political beliefs, can be sued for punitive damages.

    If this type of ‘SLAPP’ action were to succeed, companies such as James Hardie would be able to suppress criticism of their activities and victims of these companies would not be in any position to claim compensation.

    If such a precedent is set and it passes into law, the entire anti-smoking campaign could be seen as illegal and the tobacco giants would be able to claim compensation running into billions. It could also mean that the law enforcing the displaying of warnings on tobacco products could also be declared illegal. Further, the action of Unions and their members could also be a matter for damages claims in the higher courts, further curtailing the freedom of speech and assembly implied in the Constitution.

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