gunns case raises serious concerns over freedom of speech

Wednesday, 21 September 2005 NSWCCL media release: 6/2005


New laws to guarantee free speech must be introduced to protect the community from intimidation and the irresponsible use of the legal system to silence public debate, the Council for Civil Liberties said today. 

The Council will join with leading community advocates at NSW Parliament today, including the Asbestos Diseases Foundation and campaigners on a national tour to highlight free speech, to call for legislation to be passed to establish a Bill of Rights protecting free speech. 

SLAPP suits (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) are often used by a corporation or developer to sue an organisation in an attempt to scare it into dropping protests against a corporate initiative.

Secretary of NSW Council for Civil Liberties Stephen Blanks said: 

"The removal of peace campaigner Scott Parkin and the $6.8 million civil lawsuit Gunns Limited, the Tasmanian woodchip company, has taken against 20 campaigners raises huge concerns for the future of free speech in Australia" 

"Tough national security laws and the threat of legal action over speaking publicly about issues that impact on the community are intimidating and laws to uphold freedom of speech are urgently needed to restore public confidence and a fair political process." 

"In many parts of the United States, anti-SLAPP legislation has been introduced to protect people’s rights to free speech and to petition government, but this has not happened in Australia despite their being an obvious and urgent need for it." 

"The Gunns case is particularly worrying because of the sheer size and complexity of the case." 

"Even if the defendants eventually win, there will be legal costs involved that could overwhelm them and this alone would deter many people from standing up for what they believe. But the prospect of having to pay the defendants’ legal costs is no disincentive to a large corporation such as Gunns." 

"Gunns Limited is suing 20 defendants, claiming damages for media statements, disruption to its logging operation and what they claim is unlawful lobbying of shareholders, customers and governments. This is a landmark case, which may forever change the face of free speech in Australia."

For more information, please call: 

Cameron Murphy, President NSWCCL, 0411 769 769 
Stephen Blanks, Secretary NSWCCL, 0414 448 654