Thursday, November 02, 2006

Gunns Timber Giant drops claim against activists - a partial win for the Gunns 20

by Elliot K - Perth Indymedia 2006-10-18 3:54 PM +0800

Perth Indymedia October 18, 2006 - Gunns drops major legal claim

Tasmanian timber giant Gunns Limited has dropped one of its major legal claims against 20 environmentalists. The action has been dubbed a "SLAPP" (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation)* designed to silence activists.

The Wilderness Society report that Gunns do not expect to proceed with the cause of action. However, they say the company will still go ahead with six other causes of action, and are considering three further issues.

Gunns has been trying to sue conservationists for two years, but their Statement of Claim has been rejected in court three times...
On December 14, 2004, 20 environmental activists, organisations and concerned citizens were issued a 216 page writ by Tasmanian logging company Gunns Ltd. The woodchipping giant is suing for a combined AU$6.9 million for actions it claims has damaged their business and reputation.

The "Gunns 20" case is putting free speech on trial. One of those being sued is Senator Bob Brown, who says: "If Gunns are successful in getting injunctions against protesters then they will have effectively made political protest against corporations illegal. This suit is clearly intended to bully into silence politicians, protesters, and anyone attempting to exercise their democratic right to speak out."

Gunns claim the defendants, known as the "Gunns 20," organised an over-arching smear campaign against the company. But the Wilderness Society claims that in a letter to the Supreme Court in Victoria Gunns has said it does not expect to proceed with the cause of action.

The Wilderness Society's Viriginia Young said dropping the $500,000 claim would be a win of sorts: "It's clear that Gunns is going to persist with the court case in one form or another and I guess that remains to be seen now as to exactly what shape the claims they make against the defendants or some of the defendants will take," she said. "But it's still an important step, this was one of the most distressing elements I guess."

The Wilderness Society legal coordinator Greg Ogle said Gunns had hired law firm Clayton Utz, which represented tobacco company British American Tobacco in 2002, to pursue its fourth claim against the Gunns 20.

Gunns' third statement of claim against the group was rejected by the Victorian Supreme Court in August. The Gunns 20 include some of Australia's most prominent conservationists, including Greens senator Bob Brown, Tasmanian Greens leader Peg Putt and groups including The Wilderness Society.

Gunns claims that the defendants have sullied their reputation and caused them to lose profits, the defendants claim that they are simply protecting the environment. It is widely believed that this move is intended to tie up these activists in court proceedings, during which time Gunns intend to build a Pulp Mill in northern Tasmania. The move is possibly also intended to scare off other activists - in effect a SLAPP.*


Meanwhile, protestors gathered outside Launceston's Albert Hall to protesting against Gunns Ltd's proposed $1.4 billion pulp mill planned for Bell Bay on Tasmania's northeast coast.

About 60 protesters - some dressed in white sheets to represent deaths from lung and heart disease and logging truck accidents. One protester said conservation should take precedence over the mill.

"I don't want to see our state destroyed to so much excess, I want to see them save our forests, save our environment, save our atmosphere, our water and indeed our economic future," he said.

The mill - touted as Tasmania's "largest-ever investment" - would produce about 820,000 tonnes of air-dried pulp. But environmental groups say pollutants from the mill could damage the surrounding environment and Bass Strait, and local residents fear it will impact on health.


* Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation ("SLAPP") is a form of litigation filed by a large organization or in some cases an individual plaintiff, to intimidate and silence a less powerful critic by so severely burdening them with the cost of a legal defense that they abandon their criticism. The acronym was coined in the 1980s by University of Denver professors Penelope Canan and George W. Pring.

GUNNS 20 - Senator Bob Brown
Gunns20 Website
GUNNS cuts claim against Greenies - The Age
Gunns switches lawyers in tree fight - The Age
Gunns' mill blooper - News Ltd
Protesters gather for Gunn's rally - The Australian
Tamar Valley business threatens class action over pulp mill - ABC
Pulp mill plan prompts housing concerns - ABC
Gunns 20 - Wikipedia
Strategic lawsuit against public participation

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