Australian logger drops lawsuit against protesters

posted by Rainforest Action Network

Great news from Australia! A logging company has settled its lawsuit against its activist critics, and believe it or not the logger is the one who has to pay the legal fees!

In 2004, the largest logger in Tasmania, Gunns Ltd. surprised the world by suing 20 of its strongest critics, charging them with 9 separate acts of misconduct. Every single action these activists had taken had been nonviolent, ranging from organizing massive street protests to lobbying government to stop Gunns from destroying Tasmania’s old growth forests. Had Gunns been successful, it would have sent a chilling effect across the world for all activists who exercise free speech in defense of the earth. Fortunately, this is one battle that the good guys won.

Now, a quick note on Gunns, which is about as bad as a logging company can get. It clearcuts old growth forests for copy paper, then sets fires in the forest to burn anything that might remain, and sets poison traps to kill any wildlife that has escaped the logging and fires and might feed on newly-established plantations. Naturally, activists across Australia and around the world got involved in protests against Gunns.

Among the Gunns 20 was the Australian Wilderness Society, an ally organization of RAN’s. Through our office in Japan, since 2006 RAN has been working with The Wilderness Society to educate Japanese customers about the beautiful old growth forests of Tasmania, the horrible logging practices of Gunns, and the role of the Japanese paper industry in supporting Gunns’ old growth logging. 80% of Tasmania’s pulp and paper is exported to Japan, where it is manufactured into disposable paper products like tissue and copy paper.

In 2007 RAN’s Global Finance campaign advised ANZ Bank to not finance Gunns’ pulp mill. Eventually ANZ listened, and to this date Gunns is struggling to find financing for the pulp mill. Meanwhile Gunns’ stock price is barely worth the old growth paper it’s printed on, and despite the horrible economic climate the company continues to pursue the idea that it needs to build a new pulp mill. Through our most recent conversations with Japanese customers, they are becoming less interested in buying Gunns’ paper: Ricoh, Canon and Fuji Xerox are all asking suppliers Oji Paper and Nippon Paper to exclude old growth fiber from Gunns.

RAN activists in Tokyo protest at ANZ branch
RAN activists in Tokyo protest at ANZ branch

After all of this pressure, from RAN, from Australian activists, and from concerned individuals around the world, Gunns today dropped its lawsuit, which sought $3.5 million in damages from the Gunns 20 activists, and instead is paying $350,000 in legal fees to The Wilderness Society!

One surprising measure of how effective forest activists are is the level of repression they face. Cheers to The Wilderness Society for standing up and fighting back!