The federal minister for destroying the environment, Peter Garrett, has made a series
of outrageous pro-business decisions, including approval of the Gunns pulp mill near
Launceston, the dredging of Port Phillip Bay and a desalination plant near Wonthaggi.
All three projects pose considerable risks to the environment and have led to the
formation of local protest groups dedicated to protecting their local ecosystems. The
Gunns project is in doubt after a leading bank pulled its support, citing environmental
Organising around the dredging project has been spearheaded by Blue Wedges, a broad
coalition of community groups with an interest in preserving the Bay. Your Water Your
Say has taken the lead in opposing the desal plant. Both groups have taken Garrett
to court to test the legality of his decisions. Not surprisingly, the courts found in the
minister’s favour. What was shocking was the question of legal costs. Both the state and
federal governments are pursuing the community groups for hundreds of thousands of
dollars in legal fees. This will bankrupt the groups and possibly individual activists. It’s a
vicious attempt to use the superior economic power of governments to silence opposition.
Legal myths. As anyone who’s been involved in litigation knows, lawyers don’t come
cheap. There are also big risks in representing oneself, particularly where the other side
has a fat wallet. For the poor, justice is often a luxury we cannot afford. Equality under
the law is a cynical political slogan. The legal system is there to keep the oppressed in our
place — as the two protest groups have been so sharply reminded!
Political choice. There is a simple way out of this. Put so much heat on the Brumby and
Rudd governments that they pull their heads in and drop their quest to send activists
broke. The courts are only one venue for dissent, but it is a basic democratic principle
that protesters have access to them. Hands off Blue Wedges and Your Water Your Say!
Public funding for litigation against the government!