Environment in Crisis

Lawsuits Against Participation

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Other Legal Mechanisms

Trade Practices Act

In Australia various legal means have been used against protesters involved in civil disobedience. In one case five protesters superglued and bolted themselves onto logging machinery in Badja State Forest in NSW. They were charged with "intimidating" the logger who was 600m away at the time. Normally such protesters have been charged with trespass but most such charges are dismissed by the courts.

The criminal charge of "intimidation" has been on the statute books for almost 100 years and carries with it the possibility of jail sentences. It was only recently discovered by local police who say they will use it more often in future. In 1993 the protesters were found guilty and fined $4000 in the first conviction of this kind. The Australian Council of Civil Liberties backed an appeal against the convictions saying that they were an "outrageous" interference with the "basic right to protest".

Trade Practices Act

The Trade Practices Act has been used against environmental activists. The Act contains provisions, "secondary boycott provisions", that were originally introduced to stop trade union actions, including strikes. It made it illegal for a group of people to interfere with the provision of services or products that one party has contracted to provide to another party. This act was used against Greenpeace Australia in March 1991.

The ship Western Odyssey was undertaking seismic testing in Victorian waters for BHP Petroleum to investigate the feasibility of drilling for oil. Greenpeace was concerned about the impact that the sonic booms would have on the Southern Right Whale, because the area was a breeding and calving ground for the whales. (The area is now a whale sanctuary.) It was also concerned about the environmental impact of offshore drilling. BHP had said that it wouldn't drill whilst the whales were calving but Greenpeace campaigners felt they couldn't trust BHP to stop a multi-million dollar operation for six months of the year.

Greenpeace Australia, using the Rainbow Warrior, interfered with the seismic testing by continually moving a buoy that the testing boat was dragging behind it to receive back the resonations from the sonic booms. This interfered with their measurements. In response BHP used a section 45D of the Trade Practices Act to gain a court injunction to stop Greenpeace from coming near the testing boat. The injunction was taken out against Greenpeace, as well as the captain of the Rainbow Warrior, Joel Stewart, and the campaign coordinator, Molly Olson.

The application to the court also "sought declarations against Greenpeace for conspiracy and trespass and an order for damages." Damages including the costs such as the hire of the boat and lost oil production, could potentially have amounted to millions of dollars. But BHP withdrew the charges before the case reached court. This case has been cited by lawyers as an excellent example of legal action being used against environmentalists "as it highlights the combination of a number of different types of actions (breach of Section 45D, interference with agreements, conspiracy and trespass) with a range of remedies (injunctions and damages)." (Jamieson and Plibersek 1991).

The Trade Practices Act, whilst not used much in the courts, is often used as a way of intimidating protesters. It was threatened by the Forest Products Association against the North East Forest Alliance activists who were trying to prevent logging in the Chaelundi wilderness area. A separate court case, which declared logging in this area illegal, saved the activists at the last minute in this case. It was also used by Australian Paper and Pulp Manufacturers (APPM) in 1993 to threaten The Wilderness Society in Tasmania which was campaigning against the export of woodchips and by the Federal Airport Corporation against fishing people who were interfering with the dredging of Botany Bay to construct a third runway for Sydney's Mascot airport. The fishing people were concerned that the dredging would adversely affect the Bay and therefore reduce their fish catches by up to 75 percent. The Australian Consumers Association (ACA) and the Australian Federation of Consumers Organisations (AFCO) have had legal advice that consumer boycotts against environmentally damaging products might also be illegal under the same Act.

Secondary boycott provisions have also been used against Canadians. In 1996 the Japanese multinational, Daishowa Paper Manufacturing Co. won a case in an Ontario court against the Toronto-based Friends of the Lubicon (FoL) which was promoting an international consumer boycott of Daishowa's packaging products. The court decision prevents FoL from picketing or threatening to picket Daishowa customers and Daishowa is suing FoL for more than $5 million in damages.

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Additional Material

Joyce Nelson, 'Japanese Timber Giant SLAPPs Canadian Natives', Earth Island Journal (4 January 1996) , p. 21.

Robert Jamieson and Ray Plibersek, 'Legal Rights of Industry Against Conservationists' Paper presented at the Third Annual Pollution Law Conference, Sydney 28-29 October and Melbourne 30-31 October 1991.

Peter Montague, Why is EPA ignoring Monsanto? Rachel's Environment & Health Weekly, No. 563, 11 September 1997.

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© 2003 Sharon Beder