Gunns SLAPP's 20 Australian Environmentalists
On December 14, 2004, Gunns - one of Australia's largest forestry companies - lodged a 216-page writ against 20 Tasmanian environmentalists and groups seeking A$6.3 million for actions it claims has damaged their business and reputation.
Two days later Gunns announced plans to build a bleached eucalypt Kraft pulp mill in northern Tasmania.
Australian Financial Review legal editor Marcus Priest noted that in "what some unionists are calling an unholy alliance," the giant Australian forestry company Gunns is "using industrial tort avenues employers have traditionally used against workers engaged in industrial action" against 20 environmentalists and environmental groups. Gunns' legal team comprises EMA Legal, a law firm that works only for employers, and two "well-known union barristers," Stephen Howells and Mark Irving, who defended the Forestry Division of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union in a case brought by environmentalists several years ago. 
Those sued include the The Wilderness Society (totally unrelated to the U.S. Wilderness Society), Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown, the leader of the Tasmanian Greens Peg Putt, the Huon Valley Environment Centre, two independent film makers, a doctor and 13 other individuals. 
The preliminary legal hearings
In early July 2005, on the last working day before a court hearing on whether Gunns claims should be struck out, the company submitted a revised statement of claim which it had expanded to 360 pages. Lawyers for the defendents pointed out that in 118 instances the document stated that further details would be added to the claim at a later date.
In the course of the three-day hearing Justice Bongiorno complained that he found the revised document "totally incomprehensible" and, referring to early European Australian explorers described it as "a tortuous course. It would make Burke and Wills and other explorers like them quake in their boots." 
In mid-July Bongiorno told the company that unless it submitted a "radically altered" version of its claim within 28 days the case would be struck out. He described aspects of Gunns revised claim as "embarrassing" and said that "it would be a singularly unprofitable exercise to attempt to describe every defect in it which needs correction." Responding to the decision Gunns Exective Chairman, John Gay, optimistically told reporters that "suggestions have been made for some redrafting." 
In late October 2005 John Gay, the Managing Director and Executive Chairman of Gunns, told shareholders that the "decision by the Board of Directors to take legal action to protect the Company from actions by a number of environmentalists and environmental groups was taken following careful consideration." 
At the meeting, Leonie Pullinger, the wife of one of the defendants, told of the stress on her family as a result of the lawsuit. Her husband, Peter Pullinger, has campaigned for the protection of Australia's largest rainforest wilderness, the Takine, from logging. "I'm very sorry that she is in there, but they should have thought about what they did before they did it," Gay said. 
The third version of the statement of claim was lodged in August 2005, but in March 2006 the case was back in court with defendants again trying to have it struck out.
Since last November Gunns share price has slumped from $A4.80 to $2.80. Activist shareholder and journalist with Crikey.com.au, Stephen Mayne, said the publicity from the SLAPP suit and doubts about the company's ability to build a pulp mill proposed for northern Tasmania have hit the share price. "He [Gay] said that adverse publicity is driving down the share price and a lot of that has come from the frivolous and unnecessary lawsuit," Mayne said. 
In August 2006, the Victorian Supreme Court threw out Gunns third revision of its statement of claim against the Gunns 20. Gunn's is seeking $6.9 million in damages against a network of 20 individuals and environmental groups. Following the ruling, Gay told the ABC that the company would press on. "We will take individual action where there is a case of commercial damage to the company," Gay said. "We will never take ... anyone to court that is purely a pure demonstrator or has a different view of the company." 
In December 2006, Gunns lodged a fourth statement of claim dropping all the claims in relation to the corporate lobbying and the "campaign against Gunns", and releasing four defendants from the case, including Greens MPs Senator Bob Brown and Peg Putt. Over the next 3 years a series of preliminary hearings, settlement offers, court battles over discovery of documents, and mediation saw the case discontinued against a number of defendants. Most significantly, after failing to obtain orders to access documents from The Wilderness Society, in April 2009 Gunns agreed to drop the case against the environmental group and a number of its officers, paying them net $325,000 in costs. The case was scheduled to go to trial against the last 4 defendants in January 2010, but settled on the eve of the case with Gunns paying a further $155,088 to the defendants.
Gunns legal team
- Clayton Utz (hired by Gunns in October 2006)
- Hunt & Hunt (replaced by Clayton Utz)
- EMA Legal (replaced by Hunt & Hunt)
- Stephen Howells
- Mark Irving
The Official Gunns 20 website
Other Gunns 20 websites
Other SourceWatch resources
- The Gunns 20 Defendants
- Jocelyn Nettlefold, "Gunns, gags and the Greens", 7.30 Report, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, December 16, 2004.
- "Protest against move to silence critics", NineMSN, December 15, 2004. (This is an Australian Associated Press (AAP) story).
- Andrew Darby, "Lawyers, Gunns and forests", Sydney Morning Herald, January 26, 2005.
- Damien Carrick, "The Gunns 20 Litigation", The Law Report, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, January 25, 2005.
- Tom Price, Fighting the Big Gunns in Tasmania, CorpWatch, March 14th, 2005.
- Michael Duffy, "Under the Gunns", Sydney Morning Herald, March 25, 2005.
- Natasha Cica, "Middle-ground views are up against battleground tactics", Sydney Morning Herald, April 7, 2005.
- Natasha Cica, "The Gunns 20 - a watershed legal case", OnLine Opinion, April 13, 2005.
- "Gunns logging case to be lengthy: judge", The Age, June 17, 2005. (This is an AAP story).
- James Madden, "Judge tells loggers to get on with $6.3m case against greenies", The Australian, June 18, 2005.
- The Wilderness Society, "“GUNNS 20” Hearing Today", Media Release, July 4, 2005.
- "Gunns papers baffle lawyer", News.com.au, July 5, 2005.
- The Wilderness Society, "Court argument concludes over Gunns’ "incomprehensible" statement of claim", Media Release, July 6, 2005.
- "Call to strike out Gunns case", The Advertiser, July 6, 2005.
- "Gunns on hold over damages case", The Age, July 7, 2005.
- "Second Japanese company reviews woodchip policy", The Age, July 8, 2005.
- Marcus Priest, "Hearsay", Australian Financial Review, July 8, 2005. (Sub req'd.)
- "Gunns' legal document "baffling": lawyer", The Age, July 4, 2005.
- "Gunns accuses the Wilderness Society of organising a campaign against the logging company", ABC, July 18, 2005.
- "Greeniews Claim Gunns Victory", SBS, July 18, 2005.
- Lynn Bell, "Court rejects Gunns' claims against environmentalists", The World Today, ABC Radio National, 18 July, 2005.
- Lyn Bell, "Gunns vows to proceed with lawsuit", PM, ABC Radio National, 18 July , 2005.
- Gavin Lower, "Brown's tip: Forget about it", The Mercury, July 19, 2005.
- Gavin Lower, "Gunns claim isn't over, warns Gay", The Mercury, July 19, 2005.
- Tim Jeanes, "Gunns renews court action against conservationists", AM, ABC Radio National, August 16, 2005.
- "Gunns renews legal action against Brown", Daily Telegraph, August 16, 2005.
- Jim McIlroy, "National tour against Gunns lawsuit launched", Green Left Weekly, September 7, 2005.
- Wendy Frew, "Perils of protest in the new age", Sydney Morning Herald, October 1, 2005.
- Greg Ogle, "Chilling the Environment Movement", Australian Options, Spring, 2005.
- Nick Clark, "Human face of writ agony fronts Gunns", The Mercury, October 28, 2005.
- "Gunns talks up pulp mill at AGM", ABC News, October 27, 2005.
- "Gunns defendants want new case rejected", The Mercury, November 1, 2005.
- "Tasmania passes defamation law", ABC News, November 23, 2005.
- "Conservationists demand Gunns apology", ABC News, November 25, 2005.
- Gavin Lower, "Attempt to strike out third writ", Mercury, December 14, 2005.
- "'Gunns 20' case returns to court", ABC News, March 9, 2006.
- Daniel Hoare, "'Gunns 20' back in court", The World Today, 9 March, 2006.
- Adele Horin, "Fearless cries from the wilderness", Sydney Morning Herald, April 8, 2006.
- Simon Brown, "My First Lawsuit", Tasmanian Times, 16 May, 2006.
- Gwyn Topham, "Rumble in the Jungle", The Guardian, 28 June 2006.
- Andrew Darby, "Gunns, greenies and the law", The Age, August 29, 2006.
- "Gunns boss denies targeting legal demonstrations", ABC News, August 29, 2006.
- "Court blow for Gunns", The AGe, August 28, 2006.
- "Gunns switches lawyers in court battle", The Australian, October 5, 2006.
- Tim Jeanes, "Gunns Ltd General Meeting gets heated", PM, November 9,2006.
- Greg Ogle, Gagged: The Gunns 20 and other law suits, Envirobook, Sydney 2009.