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Gunns, gags and the Greens -

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Gunns, gags and the Greens

Reporter: Jocelyn Nettlefold

MAXINE McKEW: Well, it's long been a poisonous relationship, but now the conflict between the
nation's biggest private forestry company, Gunns Limited, and its anti-logging opponents is now
heading for a showdown in court.

In what's understood to be a legal first, Gunns is suing Australian Greens leader Bob Brown and 19
other activists and environmental groups for $6.3 million in damages.

The company alleges they've been unlawfully interfering with its trade and business for years and
giving Gunns a bad name.

But conservationists say the writs are an unprecedented attack on free speech and their right to
protest.

Jocelyn Nettlefold reports.

MAN: The first defendant -- Alexander Marr.

Second defendant -- Jeffrey Law.

Fifth defendant -- Heidi Douglas.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: They're now known as the Gunns 20, a group of individuals and lobby groups
opposed to the logging practices of Tasmanian timber giant Gunns Limited.

They stand accused of engaging in an unlawful conspiracy to injure the company and disrupting
Gunns' business and trade activities.

It's believed to be the first time a company has tried to sue grassroots protesters.

According to Greens Senator Bob Brown, named as the 10th defendant, it's an expensive and
intimidating assault on the right to protest.

SENATOR BOB BROWN, GREENS LEADER: They can take every penny.

They can take every peaceful night's sleep.

They can take every home comfort.

They will never stop me campaigning against their vile destruction of Tasmania's forests and its
wildlife.

Not ever.

They misjudge we defenders of the forests.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: In a 216-page writ, lodged in the Victorian Supreme Court, Gunns is seeking
$6.3 million in damages from the defendants, some of it relating to face-to-face conflict over
logging operations.

WOMAN: We're protecting our children.

We're protecting our lifestyle.

We're protecting our community.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: At one protest at Lucaston, south of Hobart last year, it's alleged that
activists damaged contractors' equipment and that the company itself was vilified by protest
banners and slogans.

LOU GERAGHTY: They wanted to come in and log an area originally of about 1,000 acres and it
affected everybody in the community, not just me.

It affected the lot.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: Lou Geraghty is a grandmother who has lived at Lucaston for 22 years.

She was arrested for obstructing police last year but hadn't counted on copping a civil suit from
Gunns.

LOU GERAGHTY: I'm a bit flabbergasted by it all, to be quite honest, and a little bit scared, you
know.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: What are you scared of?

LOU GERAGHTY: Well, you know, people get sued and lose their houses and all sorts of things.

Um, you know, I was just trying to protect our community.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: According to Gunns Limited, these allegedly damaging campaign activities on the
ground and in the corporate arena have been going on for years.

No-one from the company was available to elaborate but in a statement, chief executive John Gay
said, "Gunns Limited and the majority of Tasmanians are sick and tired of the misleading
information being peddled about our industry and our State.

Gunns is taking this action to protect the interests of its employees, contractors and
shareholders."

SENATOR BOB BROWN: What an absurdity for Mr Gay to talk about campaigning, peacefully campaigning
individuals being engaged in ongoing damaging activities when it is his corporation, in the
interests of lining their pockets, are driving the chainsaws and bulldozers and their poison and
their firebombing deeper into the grand wild forests of this beautiful island of ours every day.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: The legal showdown has been welcomed by some unions and industry groups.

BARRY CHIPMAN, TIMBER COMMUNITIES AUSTRALIA: Where individuals, companies large and small, have
endured a loss of income through illegal protest, they must have the right to pursue through the
courts avenues to recover that loss.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: Barry Chipman, from lobby group Timber Communities Australia, says forest
workers are fed up with being portrayed as the bad guys.

BARRY CHIPMAN: Timber-dependent communities and the industry as a whole has been subjected to what
we would see as unfair and unjust criticism for many a year.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: This year, Gunns recorded a profit of $105 million, a 42 per cent increase on
2003.

It ships five million tons of woodchips to Asia each year but Gunns alleges that a corporate
vilification campaign, mounted by anti-old growth logging activists in Japan, has been seriously
bad for business and is seeking exemplary damages of more than $2 million on that front.

BRUCE DONALD, LAWYER: We have a long history in Australia of corporate action against public
protest and public debate in environmental matters.

But in this one, Gunns has upped the ante.

They've taken a shotgun approach over the full five years of the Tasmanian forest campaign.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: Bruce Donald's 35-year legal career has included roles in both broadcasting and
environmental law.

He says the Gunns' list of claims is unusual because it moves beyond usual use of defamation laws
into the field of business injury or potential business loss.

BRUCE DONALD: I don't think the case is necessarily as strong as Gunns might hope.

When you add up the damages in the statement of claim that they can actually put their finger on
without all the add-ons and the aggravated losses, it's only about $120,000 over the five years,
and given the number of cases, that's not necessarily a huge case.

The second part of the case, the corporate vilification part is what Gunns calls it -- I don't
think that's necessarily strong either.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: Adopting the symbolism used by Czech pro-democracy demonstrators during the
late '80s, hundreds of supporters of the Gunns 20 today rallied in support of their right to
protest before getting down to the practical challenge of raising money for the long, expensive and
complicated legal battle ahead.

BARRY CHIPMAN: It's a matter that's before the courts and ah, we will leave that matter for the
courts to decide upon.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: Yet for Lou Geraghty and members of the Gunns 20 they are prepared to stand up
and be counted.

LOU GERAGHTY: I can't believe that it's happening, that Gunns are doing this.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: Would you protest tomorrow, though, if you had to?

LOU GERAGHTY: Yes.

You have to do, um, say about your beliefs and, you know, otherwise they'll just run all over us.