Dr Greg Ogle

Gunns20 case echoes in new ACT legislation. Historic anti-SLAPP legislation a step to protection of free speech in Australia

28 August 2008

Gunns20 case echoes in new ACT legislation
Historic anti-SLAPP legislation a step to protection of free speech in Australia

Legislation passed by the ACT Parliament last night protecting public participation signals the a step towards basic guarantees for Australians’ free speech and right to protest, The Wilderness Society said today.

The Protection of Public Participation Act 2008 is Australia’s first ever anti-SLAPP* legislation and represents important progress towards protection for Australians from the chilling effects which law suits can have on public debate and political protest, The Wilderness Society’s Legal Coordinator, Dr Greg Ogle said. * (SLAPP: Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation)

“The ACT now recognises the importance of public participation and this new law, for the first time in Australia, carries penalties for those who attempt new litigation to discourage, divert or punish political opponents,” Dr Ogle said.

The Act follows the ACT parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Legal Affairs which studied the Gunns 20 case and last year recommended that “In the same way that the ACT was a pace setter for human rights legislation,… the ACT can again be the groundbreaking jurisdiction for anti-SLAPP legislation.”

While the Act passed last night broke new ground, Dr Ogle said it is only a first step toward proper protection for the right to protest in Australia.

“Many of the strong provisions proposed in earlier versions of the legislation were dropped. Given The Wilderness Society’s four years of experience in the infamous Gunns20 case in Victoria, we are still unclear how usable some sections of the new Act will be in protecting public participation,” said Dr Ogle.

“However, other states can learn from the ACT process and the Protection of Public Participation Act is a step forward for those who wish to take action to protect the environment or to speak out on issues of public importance. We continue to hope for national legislation to prevent others being victims of Gunns20 type law suits.”

The threat to civil liberties from SLAPP suits is outlined in The Wilderness Society’s report, Gunning for Change available at: http://www.wilderness.org.au/articles/pdf/Gunning_for_Change_web.pdf