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Parliament debate on free speech lawsuits.

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Peter Andren MP - Independent Member for Calare

29 September 2005

Parliament debate on free speech lawsuits

Federal Parliament will debate a motion moved by Independent Peter Andren and seconded by his colleague Tony Windsor calling for state and federal action to control the issuing of SLAPP suits -Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.

“I placed the motion on the notice paper in March in response to community concerns over action taken by Gunns Limited in Tasmania seeking almost $6.5m in damages from 20 individuals and groups for allegedly conspiring to damage their business,” Mr Andren said.

“I followed that up with representations to state premiers and attorneys-general seeking their support for all states to address this issue through their current review of defamation laws.

“While no-one should deny the legitimate right of an individual or business to seek justifiable damages, every step should be taken to defend freedom of speech. To this end several American states have outlawed unsoundly based legal action, or SLAPP suits.

“My parliamentary motion, to be debated on October 10, calls for the insertion of an express right of freedom of speech in the Constitution. Unlike other western countries, we don’t have a Bill of Rights in this country and any protection of freedom of speech largely rests with state laws.

“I am hopeful this debate will lead to law reforms that will prevent any legal action that has the effect of denying freedom of speech and silencing legitimate community concerns. Such protracted legal action is financially crippling to most defendants while corporations can claim tax deductions for legal expenses.

“I am pleased some states have moved in recent weeks to introduce standard defamation laws which will prohibit corporations from suing for defamation. However the federal attorney general has rejected this and is threatening to amend federal laws to allow the practice to continue.

“The SLAPP writ issue and other current free speech matters will be discussed by Melbourne Senior Counsel Brian Walters and Gunns lawsuit defendant Senator Bob Brown at a luncheon in Orange on October 8th, which quite coincidentally is two days before my motion is debated in parliament,” Mr Andren said.

For further information: Peter Andren - 02 6332 6229 or 0419 612 891/Tim Mahony - 0427-480-825.

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