The following is from a publicity release from the Huon Valley Environment Centre. The case is an attack on everybody's right to engage in peaceful protest, whether or not you choose to support the particular issue (i.e. defence of Tasmania's Old Growth forests). I am exhibiting two paintings in the exhbition at the Hogan Gallery in January. Do come along!
Free Speech and Tasmania’s Forests On Trial
This February Six Defendants will stand trial in the long running Gunns 20 case.
Gunns Ltd, the Tasmanian native forest logging company, is suing five individuals and one grass roots environmental organisation. The case has already cost Gunns Ltd $2.8 million and is likely to cost much more by the end. It is one of the longest running and most expensive cases of its kind in Australian legal history. Fortunately, this planet is blessed with courageous people who are prepared to fight for a healthy democracy and the public good, to defend freedom of speech, and to fight for the future of our forests and wildlife. By supporting this fundraising exhibition, you are supporting the defendants in this nationally and internationally significant court case. It will have far-reaching implications for the right to protest and the right to free speech.
Five years ago, in December 2004, Gunns Ltd issued a $6.4 million, 216 page writ against 20 environmental activists and organizations. Multiple writs later, with cases variously dropped, dismissed or otherwise discontinued, six defendants remain. The case is set to test the legal limits of protest, activism and free speech. The six remaining defendants are individuals with limited assets plus a small grassroots organisation, the Huon Valley Environment Centre, based in the south of Tasmania.
The Gunns20 case will go to trial in February 2010 in the Supreme Court in Melbourne. The case may run for up to five weeks. The defendants are preparing for the trial. Unlike Gunns, which is a company, they are being sued as individuals. They face the possibility of being taken to the cleaners by a court case like this - and indeed into potential bankruptcy. It affects not just the defendents themselves, but also their loved ones, their families, friends and other people. And there is the impact on the wider community, from the potential for intimidation by a large corporation to restrict freedom to protest.
But the legitimate right of people everywhere on this planet to stand up for what they believe can’t be taken away if we are going to have a healthy democracy. The woodchipping industry in Tasmania is destroying native forests at the greatest rate in history; this year approximately 150,000 log truck loads will go the woodchip mills for export to Japan, China, Korea, and the great majority of that is through this company called Gunns Ltd. You only have to look at what’s happening to the magnificent forests of Tasmania and the wildlife after the loggers for Gunns have been through, and you see total devastation. Nothing is left alive.
Freedom to Speak A Corporate Unmasking - Gunns 20 Fundraising Collaborative Exhibition – 20 Artists At Hogan Gallery, Smith St, Fitzroy Melbourne. 15 Jan - 28 Jan 2010
Australian Greens Leader, Senator Bob Brown says; “In the Franklin campaign, we broke the law, we were prepared to pay the consequences, and everybody I run into who was part of that movement at the time feels proud that they were. Because a great benefit came out of it, including investment, jobs, and of course the retention of beauty. Where do you draw the line?: you draw it in your own conscience, and you have to be well aware of the consequences and you have to, in your own lifetime, either accept every law that’s brought through, or determine whether there are other higher moral principles, ethical principles, including the rights of future generations, which are an inherent law of human activity, which have to be obeyed as well. "
Prominent Melbourne Barrister, Brian Walters SC says; “I don’t think anyone should say that the corporations shouldn’t have rights. They do have rights, and they should be able to access the courts. The question is, for what purpose? And the question is, what do we sacrifice if we allow them to just use their corporate power rather than their corporate rights? In the United States, following the huge explosion of SLAPP suits in the 1980s, nearly every state has now adopted anti-SLAPP suit legislation. It’s usually called Protection of Public Participation legislation, and under that legislation, if a corporation brings an action with the purpose of silencing public debate, they are liable to punitive damages in the courts. And that’s been applied, it’s meant a huge drop in the number of SLAPP suits, and an increase in the creativity of public debate within the United States. We should have that here.”
The Remaining Defendants
The ancient and wild forests of Tasmania inspire and nurture Adam's spirit. He has campaigned for a number of years with the Huon Valley Environment Centre for their protection from the woodchip companies. It was the threat of industrial forestry near his home and the impact on the local community that pushed Adam and other local residents to take a stand for their small rural valley. It was this stand for the wildlife, forests and people of Lucaston, that has resulted in him being sued by Gunns Ltd.
Louise Morris initially came to Tasmania in 2001, after campaigning for the protection of Western Australia’s forests, for a short summer vacation. From that point on Louise fell in love with the Tasmanian landscape and lifestyle and become heavily involved in the campaign to protect Tasmania’s forests. Louise spent much of 2005 coordinating the Friends of Forest and Free Speech national tour. The tour highlighted the Gunns 20 case and the need for a bill of rights that protects free speech and the right to peaceful protest. Louise is currently working as a climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth, while attempting to complete a degree in Politics and International Studies. Louise was honoured with the 2005 Australian Conservation Foundation’s Peter Rawlinson Conservation Award.
Mrs Lou Geraghty
Like many Tasmanians, Lou never for a minute considered that one day she would become involved with an environmental campaign, nor be in danger of losing her home and life savings over a court case bought by Tasmania’s largest logging corporation. Married with children and grandchildren, Lou and her husband were in the process of developing their property for eco-tourism when the magnificent forests next to her Lucaston property became an industrial logging zone. All plans were put on hold while she and her neighbors fought for the peace, safety and amenity of their families and the surrounding wildlife and forests. This struggle became a ground breaking documentary entitled ‘The Battle of Bakers Creek’ and Lou ended up as one of the Gunns20.
Neal is the youngest member of the Gunns 20. One day he would like to make lots of money at the expense of those around him and go on to become a powerbroker in one of Australia's two major political parties. He would like to thank Gunns for this invaluable legal opportunity.
A well known Tasmanian film and documentary maker, Brian produced the ground breaking 2003 documentary "The Battle of Bakers Creek". Hailed as one of the most powerful environmental films ever seen, the documentary covers the battle waged by members of a small Tasmanian community against Gunns Ltd plans to log the beautiful forests of the Lucaston Valley, 40 minutes south of Hobart. Brian knows only too well the high price of telling the outside world about environmental destruction in Tasmania. While filming traffic footage for the documentary in a public place, Brian, and his camera equipment, were attacked by a log truck driver. The attack was caught on film and broadcast nationally giving a window for the rest of the country on the realities faced by brave people trying to raise awareness about logging in Tasmania.
The Huon Valley Environment Centre Inc.
Located in Southern Tasmania’s woodchipping heartland in the town of Huonville, the Huon Valley Environment Centre stands against incredible odds and is a brave beacon to the community. The Centre is a meeting space for environmentalists and has a great range of gifts, books, plants and a lending library. It has become an oasis for many environmentally minded people. It is staffed by a committed group of Tasmanians volunteers. Established in 2001, the centre's activities include forest campaigns, herb health and organic expos, and coordinating events about local environmental issues. Huon Valley Environment Centre campaigns for Tasmania's threatened World Heritage value southern forests. It is spearheading the campaign to protect the Lower Weld Valley, a valley of ancient forests and wild pristine rivers.