International environmental groups unite against Australian corporate assault on free speech

Joint Statement:

Press release - 23 February, 2005
Friends of the Earth International, Greenpeace International, the Rainforest Action Network and the Sierra Club unreservedly condemn the decision by the Australian woodchip company, Gunns, to sue environmentalists and politicians in Australia who have opposed its role in the logging of old growth forests in Tasmania.

On 13th December 2004 Gunns, the world´s biggest exporter of hardwood woodchips, served a writ against 20 organisations and individuals, including The Wilderness Society of Australia and Senator Bob Brown, the leader of the Australian Green Party. Gunns is accusing them of interfering in its business interests and is seeking 3.8 million Euros in damages.

The future of Tasmania´s old growth forests was at the centre of the election battle in Australia in 2004 when both the Coalition Government and Labour Opposition made election pledges to protect more of Tasmania´s threatened old growth forests from the woodchip industry. These iconic forests contain some of the tallest hardwood trees in the world and are home to many endangered species. Public opinion polls show that 80% of the Australian public want all of Tasmania´s old growth forests fully protected.  

Gunns is by far the biggest exporter of woodchips sourced from old growth forests in Tasmania and its actions are massively environmentally damaging. Having lost the public debate in Australia on old growth forest protection Gunns is now using its wealth and power in an attempt to crush dissent and silence its critics through the courts. It is a classic example of a corporation deliberately attempting to intimidate members of civil society engaged in peaceful opposition to environmental abuse. As such, this law suit represents nothing less than a direct assault on democracy and free speech which is of great concern to civil society movements worldwide.

We stand shoulder to shoulder with our Australian NGO colleagues to oppose this shameful writ and we demand that Gunns withdraws it. We believe that responsible companies who respect the role of civil society in protecting the environment will firmly oppose this lawsuit. We therefore call on Gunns major shareholders and Japanese customers to condemn it and make it clear that they fully support the democratic right of communities, NGO´s and politicians to peacefully oppose environmentally and socially destructive activity.

Notes: 1) The Wilderness Society is the lead Australian national campaign group working to protect the Australian wilderness and forests. For more information see Gunns sells the majority of its woodchips to the Japanese pulp and paper industry. The main Japanese paper manufacturer customers of Gunns woodchips are Nippon Paper Industries and Oji Paper Co.  Mitsubishi Paper Mills, Daio Paper Co. and Chuetsu Pulp & Paper Co are also customers. The key Japanese trading companies importing the Tasmanian woodchips are: Sumitomo Corporation, Itochu Corporation, Mitsui Co. and Mitsubishi Corporation. Mitsubishi Corporation and Mitsubishi Paper Mills announced in 2004 that they will stop buying woodchips from Tasmanian old growth and high conservation value forests ‘as soon as possible´. 3) Gunns biggest shareholders are Perpetual Trustees, Concord, AMP and Deutsche Bank. 4) Following the Australian Federal election in October 2004, the Coalition Government was returned and promised to protect an additional 170,000 hectares of public and private old growth forest in Tasmania.  This still leaves at least 100,000 hectares of old growth and high conservation value forest in Tasmania that remains unprotected.