Gunns drops accusations

The Gunns case in which woodchip exporter Gunns’ is suing a large number of critics, has taken an interesting turn, with Gunns abandoning claims of criminal damage made against the respondents in general and a number of specific individuals. The case is now confined to the attempt by Gunns to suppress public debate using the deplorable SLAPP method, now largely prohibited in the US, where it originated.

The criminal allegations, if there were evidence to support them, would have justified a court action. Instead, it appears, the existence of court proceedings has enabled Gunns to make allegations that would be defamatory in normal circumstances, then drop them without providing any evidence.

The Wilderness Society has put out a press release (over the fold) calling for an apology, but I can’t see that happening. Still, it seems certain that Gunns and its shareholders will pay dearly for this exercise, in both money and reputation.


28 thoughts on “Gunns drops accusations

  1. Te successfully move against SLAPPS in the Australian political landscape, Australia will need a constitutional bill of rights. Considering this governments conduct, such measures would appear to run conrary to their interests.

    SLAPPS are something we will no doubt see more of here in Australia.

  2. I guess McLibel has actually taught corporations something.
    I would relly have loved to have gotten a McGunns T-shirt though.

  3. The action by Gunns was always silly, and they were caught out in the recent hearing.

    Shareholders should be happy that $$ will not be spent on pursuing this action any further.

    A win-win for shareholders and the Greenies Inc.

  4. Does this mean that Tasmania will now, not be considered the only place that needs help with overlogging? From my experience with Greens, it seemed ‘Tasi-centric’.

    Am happy for that result,though.

  5. Terje, if they can- they should.

    Anti-SLAPP legislation for Australia is a must, but as Kieran said, a constitutional Bill of Rights is both prerequisite and desperately needed for other pressing reasons.

  6. PML,
    “Gotten” is actually middle english, not an Americanism. It fell out of use in the UK (and therefore in Australia), but was preserved in the US. Much of what we now believe to be ‘American’ English has the same roots.

  7. It is also worth keeping an eye on the action by Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) targetting people campaigning against mulesing of sheep and the live export trade.

    This action (by a taxpayer funded body who gets that money to ‘promote’ the wool industry) is being taken under the Trade Practices Act. Most of the publicity has been focused on the charges against the US NGO PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals), but AWI also pulled some individual Australian activists into the charges.

    This case made no pretence from the start about supposed ‘criminal’ activity, instead being based solely on economic harm. Given that all PETA (and the Australian activists) have been doing is drawing people’s attention to specific activities and encouraging them to boycott the buying of products if they don’t approve of those activities, it will be very bad news if the court action has any success (and even worse that they have been able to use taxpayer money to run the case).

  8. Andrew Barlett, have you gone round the bend? Success of the court action against PETA & any Australian activists will be fantastic, I cannot possibly see how it will be “bad news”. PETA is a collection of crazed fanatical zealots. If it is possible, they are even more looney and innaccuare than is greenpeace. (er.. IF such a thing is possible)

  9. There is considerable intelligent support for a Bill of Rights in Australia. One of the most important provisions in such a Bill of Rights would be a guarantee of freedom of speech.

    However, it is noteworthy in JQ’s discussion of the evolution and restriction of the SLAPP suit (linked above), the First Amendment did nothing in and of itself to prevent the rise of the SLAPP suit in the US.

    State laws were required to do that. As JQ states:

    “As with most legal fashions, the reaction against SLAPP suits began in California which passed legislation in 1992 allowing defendants to strike out SLAPP suit where the complaint arises from conduct that falls within the rights of petition and free speech . The statute “applies to any writing or speech made in connection with an issue under consideration or review by a legislative, executive, or judicial proceeding, or any other official proceeding authorized by lawâ€?, that is, in effect, to any political speech.”

    Doubtless, the ambition embodied in this legislation was inspired by the First Amendment. However, the First Amendment in and of itself was insufficient to serve as a proection against SLAPP suits. The reason for this is clear: the First Amendment only prevents governments from curtailing free speech. Corporations and private individuals fall below its purview.

    Nevertheless, that California legislation should serve as a model for Australian federal and state legislation to protect against rich bullies like Gunns and their ilk.

  10. I wouldn’t be quite so congratulatory about the Gunn’s decision. The action is still proceeding in large part.

    As for PETA, again the AWI action is a SLAPP and therefore a bad thing. I happen to think that mulesing is fairly poor, I’ve participated in it but always thought there’s got to be a better way to prevent flystrike. And whadda ya know, 6 months after PETA raise trouble, a better way is invented. Seems that their action has been nicely resolved, and they deserve kudos for this action (despite generally being nutters).

  11. The only thing PETA deserve is to be mulesed. Action by a bunch of kooks is hardly what it takes to develop a way to prevent flystrike.

    Almost everybody involved in mulesing abhors the practice, however flystrike is not to be contemplated. It has taken several years, not 6 months, to develop an extremely unsatisfactory “alternative” to mulesing.

    The only alternative to mulesing is as it always was, a strong risk of flystrike.

  12. The only think I think a bill of rights should do is limit government action in specific ways. Once a bill of rights starts limiting other sections of society or prescribing government action then my support falls away rather rapidly.

    I have often thought that such a document should actually be called something like “Constitutional Restrictions on Government Action” so that its intended nature was made explicit.

  13. Terje, perhaps you could clarify whether an issue of damages under the Trade Practices Act, or defamation law, constitutes “government action” in your view

  14. “PETA is a collection of crazed fanatical zealots. If it is possible, they are even more looney and innaccuare than is greenpeace”

    Do you know any members of either organisation Steve?.

  15. Unfortunately the Gunns 20 will not be “breaking the bubbly out�. Even though serious allegations such as involvement in “guerilla� activities and criminal conspiracy have been quietly dropped the case continues. These allegations were contained in versions 1 and 2 of the statement of claim. Version 1 and 2 were thrown out by the Judge in July 2005. As per normal court procedure Gunns were allowed to redraft their claim after it was thrown out. Version 3 of the statement of claim was served on the Gunns 20 in August.

    In fact version 3 of Gunns’ statement of claim claims an additional $500,000.00. This brings the total claim to nearly $7 million. The Gunns 20 have notified the court of their intention to strike out version 3. This hearing is likely to take place early next year.

    Gunns are claiming damages for media statements by defendants, lobbying activities such as letter writing and disruption of its logging operations. This case is far from over and the Gunns 20 need all the support people can provide. For further information see

  16. Ian Gould: Are you suggesting that me “knowing” members of either of those organisations would somehow inject some common sense into them? I don’t know any members of the Nazi party, nor the communist party, however I still believe both are a scourge.

    Members of both PETA and greenpeace tend to not lurk in locations where the people are on the recieving end of their policies of “damage the livlihood of anyone but me”. It just isn’t safe for them.

    Alpha, better lay off the junglejuice for a few days, until you make sense.

  17. “Members of both PETA and greenpeace tend to not lurk in locations where the people are on the recieving [sic] end of their policies”

    Steve, it’s i before e except after c.

  18. “Steve: Are you suggesting that me “knowingâ€? members of either of those organisations would somehow inject some common sense into them?”

    No, i’m suggesting that before you make sweeping judgements abotu organisations with thosuands of members it might actually be useful to have soem empirical information.

    In the case of the Nazis one can point to the objective evidence that they were responsible for tens of millions of deaths.

    PETA seems mostly to be responsible for some tasteless ads.

  19. regardless of what people might think of PETA or mulesing, if the Trade Practices Act is able to be used to pursue damages against people who simply encourage others who share their views to boycott the purchase of a particular product then our society is in real trouble – particularly when an industry can use taxpayer money to do it.

    (I must say I would be astonished if the Trade Practices Act is actually interpreted in this way, but the fact is that the wool industry is still using taxpayer money to use the courts to try to financially pressure people into silence)

  20. David Ricardo,
    Pedantry is about the worst way of doing anything on a blog. You end up looking sillier than the person who made the spelling error. If we are going to start with that sort of thing I could point out that in your sentence, the “i”, “e” and “c” should all be in double quotes. Just leave it and answer the pont or make a new one yourself.
    Andrew Bartlett,
    I think you are guilty of overstating the danger to society posed by the TPA. It has its silly points, but to say it is a danger to society is a bit strong. I would think that, for all its faults, the parliament would notice legislation that posed a danger to society and then the legslation would be amended. An amendment would probably introduce more unintended consequences, but I somehow doubt that it would include a danger to society.
    If more of these suits occur then I would think that the courts themselves will start to slapp them down (apologies to Homer).

  21. Andrew R., I don’t think your response to Andrew B. is helpful, since it seems to be an all-purpose reason for doing nothing about anything. If the problem gets sufficiently bad, presumably Parliament and the courts will do something about it.

  22. QUOTE: Terje, perhaps you could clarify whether an issue of damages under the Trade Practices Act, or defamation law, constitutes “government action� in your view

    RESPONSE: I would say that they do. So in drafting something like a “Constitutional Restrictions on Government Action� you would need to think carefully about which actions you wish to limit.

    As a start we might say something such as:-

    * Government shall not silence a person from expressing in written or verbal form opinions and view points or deliberately hinder the transmission of such opinions and view points. Neither shall government impose any penalty designed to discourage a person from freely expressing their opinons or view points.

    You would need to think about whether these limits applied to just the executive wing or all wings of government.

    My main point is that I don’t think a Constitutional “Bill of Rights” should include so called positive rights. Enshrining such rights would create autopilot spending programs.

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