By Debra Wirth
SYDNEY — A campaign against sections 45D and E of the Trade Practices Act was launched here by Greenpeace on May 1.
BHP Petroleum threatened to use 45D against Greenpeace in March as a result of a protest action near Warrnambool off the west coast of Victoria. The action was dropped on April 26.
The protest had called on BHP to stop its oil exploration in the calving grounds of the endangered southern right whale. According to Greenpeace, "This ill-conceived program was introduced with the complete absence of any public consultation, no full or proper environmental impact assessment or ecological studies".
Greenpeace points out that, "Had BHP's legal action been successful, a ... regressive and legal precedent would have been established, the consequences of which should concern all Australians concerned with freedom of speech and the right to peaceful protest".
Sections D and E were added to the Trade Practices Act in 1977 by the Fraser government. Their effect is to make it illegal for two or more people to "act in concert" to prevent one company providing a service to another. This could be used against almost any sort of protest picket, among other things.
According to Greenpeace, in any one week the trade union movement is threatened with 45D three or four times. It was used in 1981 to overturn bans by the Seamen's Union on the handling of uranium from the Mary Kathleen Mines in Queensland. This ban was in keeping with official ACTU policy at the time.
In the campaign against 45D and E, Greenpeace intends to work with a variety of organisations, including civil liberties, local and national environment groups, trade unions and consumer groups. Paul Gilding, the executive director of Greenpeace Australia, called the campaign "an alliance formed to battle for the future".
Also speaking at the launch were Karenne Jurd, campaigns director of the Wilderness Society, and Pat Griffin, director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. Both expressed their organisations' support for a broad-ranging campaign against 45D.
Speaking during the question time at the launch, Pat Gorman, editor of the United Mineworkers Federation paper, Common Cause, stressed the importance of getting rid of the legislation altogether, not simply amending it so it couldn't be used against environmentalists. Environmentalists, unionists and other progressive organisations should work together for its complete repeal, he said.
Gilding recognised the need for union involvement in the campaign. He said Greenpeace had been overwhelmed by offers of support for the y thanked the trade union movement for its offers of support.