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Gunning down rainforest protesters

Keith Parkins | 25.12.2004 21:50 | Analysis | Ecology | Social Struggles

Corporate greed knows no bounds. Not content with destroying pristine rainforests in Tasmania, Gunns are threatening legal action against their critics in a crude attempt to silence them.

'If Tasmanians opposed to Gunns are silenced, all who challenge the rich and powerful in this country are vulnerable.' -- Martin Flanagan

The Styx Valley in Tasmania contains pristine rainforests. In the name of corporate greed, this is being destroyed at a phenomenal rate by logging company Gunns for wood chip. What little remains is being napalmed and burnt to the ground. Nothing living survives. The cleared land is then used for plantations. Poison is laid to kill off any living creatures.

Corporate greed knows no bounds. Not content with destroying pristine rainforests in Tasmania, Gunns are now threatening legal action against their critics in a crude attempt to silence them. An extremely high risk strategy, obviously they have never heard of the McLibel trial.

The McLibel trial was a David and Goliath case against two people who were accusing McShit of amongst other things having poor working conditions, serving shit food and exploiting children. McDonald's lost on most points, and and the few point on which they did score proved to be a hollow victory. It cost McShit millions of dollars in bad publicity, and their share price has been tumbling ever since. The trial was the longest running in English legal history. As the two defendants walked free from the court after the end of the trial, their first action on leaving the court, standing on the court steps, was to hand out leaflets to the awaiting journalists highlighting the case against McDonald's.

If Gunns are that stupid, and it appears to be they are.

A special issue of The Ecologist that focused on the wrongs of Monsatan was mysteriously pulped by their printers. The publicity that surrounded this trashing, meant that when copies finally reached the streets it was widely read. Like McShit, the reputation of Monsatan never recovered.

And Gunns want to go down the same avenue?

Gunns are accusing their critics of of disrupting its business through grassroots action and blackening its name through “corporate vilification”. Most impartial and independent observers thought Gunns were more than capable of doing that all on their own, without help from anyone else.

Gunns have filed a suit against 20 people and organisations, including Greens senator Bob Brown and state leader Peg Putt and representatives of the Wilderness Society and Doctors for Forests. Gunns is seeking multi-million dollar damages

Earlier in the year, Hobart man Gerard Castles had a letter published in a local newspaper about reports alleging that a Tasmanian couple were sprayed with herbicide by a helicopter pilot contracted by Gunns. He says that soon after publication, he received a letter from solicitors acting for Gunns denying the incident and demanding a retraction.

Gunns Ltd has filed suit against a group of environmentalists, protesters and Green MPs for A$6.3 million. The company has lodged a writ alleging a group of 20 individuals and groups damaged its business. Green MPs Bob Brown and Peg Putt and a number of members of the Wilderness Society are among those named in the writ, lodged in the Supreme Court of Victoria. The company is claiming damages for financial loss allegedly suffered as a result of protest actions.

Examples cited include:

* The Styx Valley tree-sit campaign in 2003
* A protest and "lock-on" at the Triabunna woodchip mill
* A letter-writing campaign which saw more than 7000 people write to Japanese woodchip customers urging them not to buy Gunns woodchips
* A media campaign urging four major banks to end their association with Gunns
* A lobbying campaign to have Gunns removed as a finalist from the Banksia Environmental Awards
* A claim by the group Doctors for Forests that the Burnie woodchip pile could harbour legionella

One of those named in the writ is the young film maker Heidi Douglas, whose film of the devastating destruction of the remaining rainforest at Styx Valley, Tasmania's forests, was shown to critical acclaim at the recent BeyondTV film festival in Swansea. Heidi is being sued for A$95,000 for 'vilifying' Gunns. It is difficult to see how exposing the truth about Gunns is to vilify them.

Tasmania's forests is not even a film about Gunns, it's a film about the wanton destruction of Tasmania's rainforests. Gunns only get a passing mention as the prime mover of that wanton destruction. If Gunns don't like what is being said about them, then they should change their bad habits.

Tasmania's leading writer Richard Flanagan has described the Gunns writ as

"an appalling abuse of power by the most powerful in Tasmania. If Gunns' tactic was to succeed there would effectively be no right to dissent and free speech would exist in name only. In Tasmania we have a state government that uses the political process to intimidate any who question, and we now have Gunns using the legal process to attempt the same end. Tasmanians ought be frightened because Gunns' greed seems to know no limits: they want not only our forests, but now our very silence. It is time decent Tasmanians stood up against this culture of fear and intimidation."

The action by Gunns to stifle protest is a classic SLAPP suite, Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. The purpose of a SLAPP is not to win damages - they rarely reach court, and are usually of little legal merit – the purpose of a SLAPP is to intimidate.

In SLAPPing their opponents, Gunns are at least showing their true face, that of corporate thug and bully-boy. Losing the argument, Gunns are now having like thugs to crudely silence their critics.

The writ served on The Gunns 20, is not just an attack on The Gunns 20, it is an attack on free speech, an attack on democracy. No longer are Gunns destroying the environment, they are attacking the roots of a once democratic society. Money may buy the politicians, but Gunns are going to learn the hard way, money does not buy the people.

In the week leading up to Christmas, hundreds of people rallied in Hobart in support of The Gunns 20, as they are now called. Rallies were also held in Sydney, Adelaide and Launceston, Tasmania.

Australia looks more like a Central American banana republic, than a first world modern democracy. Its main industries are extractive, ripping the heart out of the earth for minerals or clear felling pristine forests as in Tasmania. Tasmania doesn't even process the woodchip, instead it ships the woodchip to Japan for processing into paper. Australia supplies raw materials to Japan, and of late to China. Australia has one of the worst incidents of cancer, and worst of the worst, is Tasmania. Like all good banana republics, Aussie politicians jump to the tune of their corporate masters.

Don't drink the water in Tasmania, or if you do, make sure its bottled water imported from abroad. Aerial spraying of the plantations, means the water is not safe to drink.

We cannot allow Gunns to continue to destroy rainforests, to bully their opponents. We must redouble our efforts to shut Gunns down, to target their customers, their financial backers and the politicians they have in their pockets.



20 Gunns Salute for Tasmanian Environmentalists, Indymedia, 16 December 2004

Joel Bakan, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, Constable, 2004

Sharon Beder, Global Spin: The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism, Green Books, 2002

Davies Bros, Waving the legal SLAPPs stick, The Mercury, 19 Decemebr 2004

Martin Flanagan, Is this the end of dissent in Australia?, The Age, 16 December 2004

Chris Johnson, 600 protest over writs from Gunns, The Examiner, 16 December 2004

Kathy Marks, 'Tree huggers' are sued by Tasmanian logging firm in bid to halt campaigns, The Independent, 19 December 2004

Keith Parkins, Destruction of Rainforests in Tasmania, Indymedia UK, 17 December 2004

Keith Parkins, Destruction of Rainforests in Tasmania, December 2004

Robin of Sherwood, Activists occupy Australian consular offices over logging, Indymedia UK, 14 July 2004

Jeffrey M Smith, Seeds of Deception, Yes! Books, 2003

Timber giant accused of intimidation tactics, ABC Online, 17 December 2004

Undercurrents, Praise for video activist festival, Indymedia UK, 24 November 2004

John Vidal, McLibel: Burger Culture on Trial, Pan Books, 1997

Keith Parkins
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  1. Watch out for the food — A Nonny Mous