Page 1173 - Week 04 - Wednesday, 9 April 2008

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number of respondents might eventually be found to be liable for tortious wrongs probably will not be remarked upon by the media, because it will have been a long time since the issue made the news and they will have been silenced for that whole period.

I understand that there is nothing in the ACT’s legislation which would prevent similar action being launched. I am therefore surprised by the Attorney-General’s lack of interest in rectifying what appears to be a glaring deficiency in our legal process. This is based on a letter that I wrote to the Attorney-General some time ago. I would appreciate—I was wanting to know—what the Attorney-General hoped for by waiting for a formal resolution to the more strictly legal component of the Gunns case. However, this morning I received a reply to that request. The speech written for today was going to say that there was no reply as yet, but this morning I received a reply. I am afraid that it just confirms my belief that the bill is not being received in its actuality—perhaps by departmental officers—and that this is the view that is driving the government’s response.

Another argument put forward by the Attorney-General as a reason not to support the anti-SLAPP laws was the need to discourage forum shopping. I fail to see how passing laws to discourage the abuse of the ACT’s legal system is going to encourage forum shopping. This is an argument that was used against our particular version of the anti-terrorist laws by AFP Commissioner Keelty. It is obvious that closing off one forum will in fact limit the scope for forum shopping. And as, one by one, each jurisdiction brings in its own laws—introduced by the Greens, in all cases—the capacity for forum shopping will become that much less until the remaining forums hurry to prevent their courts being clogged up with unmeritorious legal actions.

Yes, a uniform, nationally based regulatory system would discourage forum shopping. But so would unilateral action. I would have thought that the Labor Party would be keen to enact legislation like this, which also protects trade union activity—particularly legislation that seeks to protect legitimate activities aimed at influencing corporate behaviour, like legal strike action, picketing et cetera, where such actions are not covered by commonwealth industrial relations laws. I understand that this category includes community unionism action such as the FairWear campaign, targeted at abolishing sweatshops; union participation in peace or environmental protests; and unions moving motions at corporate AGMs—perfectly legitimate forms of lobbying, you would think.

In 2005, the Financial Sector Union proposed motions at the Commonwealth Bank’s AGM asking for a better deal for its workers. It was promptly sued by the bank. Churlish you might have thought, considering that, according to the FSU’s website, their motions received over 40 million affirmative votes. The action was dismissed, but only because the FSU stood firm in opposing it. It was clearly intended to scare them off, divert and waste their resources and send a signal to other unions and community organisations that they would suffer similar treatment if they dared to pursue their agendas using legitimate shareholder voting rights.

In dismissing the action, Justice Madgwick concluded that the shareholder campaign was entirely lawful—nothing more than a species of advocacy using lawful processes.

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