Gunns sues environmentalists, attacks free speech

January 19, 2005

Alex Bainbridge, Hobart

Woodchipping giant Gunns Limited issued a writ against 20 environmental activists and organisations on December 13, claiming their actions had hurt its business. Two days later, up to 700 people protested in Hobart to denounce Gunns' suit as an attack on free speech. Protests were also held in Launceston and other cities around Australia.

Gunns is seeking $6.3 million damages from the activists, now known as the "Gunns 20".

The actions that allegedly cost Gunns money were protest actions, including the 2003 Styx Valley tree-sit known as the "Global Rescue Station", a campaign to convince Japanese consumers not to purchase woodchips from Gunns and the protest and "lock-on" at Triabunna woodchip mill.

Greens Senator Bob Brown and state Greens leader Peg Putt are named in the writ, along with The Wilderness Society's Geoff Law and Alec Marr. Others, such as 60-year-old grandmother Lou Geraghty, have been sued for their role in local protest actions. The defendants also include grassroots groups Doctors for Forests and the Huon Environment Centre.

Geraghty protested in 2003 against Gunns' plans to log around 1,000 acres near Lucaston, where she has lived for 22 years. She told ABC's 7.30 Report: "It affected everybody in the community, not just me ... I was just trying to protect our community."

The Gunns 20 have vowed to fight vigorously against Gunns' suit. Brown set the tone of their defence before a media conference when he said: "They can take every penny, they can take every peaceful night's sleep ... [but] they will never stop me campaigning against their vile destruction of Tasmania's forests and its wildlife, not ever."

"They misjudge we defenders of the forests", Brown declared.

The December 15 rally was addressed by federal Labor parliamentarian Duncan Kerr and author Richard Flanagan as well as representatives of the Gunns 20. Others to quickly condemn the writ as an attack on freedom of speech include new Unions Tasmania secretary Simon Cocker, Trudy Maluga from the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre and Socialist Alliance spokesperson Kamala Emanuel.

In a Socialist Alliance media release, Emanuel argued that "Gunns' directors are the corporate criminals who should be punished for destroying Tasmania's old-growth forests against the wishes of the majority of Tasmanians".

"The people named in Gunns' suit should be the subject of congratulation not litigation, for their role in helping to defend our natural heritage."

ABC Online reported Maluga's comments on December 18. "To think the protection of human life, environment and social justice is subject to penalties instigated by selfish, money-driven bureaucrats who simply want to undermine people's rights to publicise a point of view means devastation through dictatorship.

"Aboriginal people have and will continue to express our opinion on social, land and cultural heritage issues through public protests and statements, to get our point of view out to the public."

Writing in the Melbourne Age, Steven Curry from the University of Melbourne argued that "Protesting against Gunns may damage its interests, but it isn't criminal or wrong. However, the most damning aspect of the suit is that some of the actions being sued for simply are not criminal acts directed against Gunns or its contractors.

"One claim is that defendants have engaged in 'publicising grievances about the environment and the activities of [Gunns] both in Australia and with its customers and consumers overseas'. This is simply a definition of protest."

A legal and political defence campaign is now underway. For more information visit <>.

From Green Left Weekly, January 19, 2005.
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