Has the green movement, at last, no shame? Is there no sordid level to which it will not stoop? Not content with years of civil disobedience and protest marches and placard waving, now we learn from The Australian Financial Review (via  front page coverage) and The Australian today of the worst yet: there’s a funding proposal for a strategy to use the law and democracy to try to thwart large-scale coal investment.

A Greenpeace-co-ordinated strategy, if funded, would use the courts, law reform and community activism to try to legally halt vast new coal mining projects that would add substantially to Australia’s greenhouse emission exports in coming decades. It would aim to capitalise on the deep unease felt by the community, particularly in regional areas, in relation to coal seam gas processes and the destruction of farmland and water resources by mining.

In addition to breathless shock-horror reports, The Fin‘s Matthew Stevens was given nearly a full page to lament this savage assault on capitalism, or “economic vandalism” as Rio Tinto called it. As usual, there was no disclosure from Stevens of his own connection to BHP (his wife is the company’s corporate spinner).

“The interesting thing is the timing,” Greenpeace’s senior campaigner John Hepburn told Crikey. “They have clearly had the document for some time … We think it was dumped today because UNESCO is arriving today and we have been having such a strong run with our report on the impacts of the coal boom on the Great Barrier Reef.”

As we know, the business community would never resort to the courts, and no company would ever resort to vexatious litigation with the intent of disrupting a competitor’s plans through endless legal manouevring. Nor has any company ever tried to silence environmental critics by suing them in the hope that they would be unable to afford the legal costs of defending an action. Nor have any of Australia’s biggest companies ever engaged in astroturfing to fake community opposition to a competitor.

And we know companies never seek to influence legislation and regulation in their own favour. And most of all, we know mining companies would never seek to entirely circumvent the policy process by running a misleading $100 million advertising campaign.

Although there are the occasional examples otherwise. Like Apple’s global campaign of litigation against Samsung to prevent the sale of the company’s tablets. Or Nine dragging ICE TV all the way to the High Court to disrupt its business model of providing consumers with television programming information. Or the recent efforts by sports rights holders to shut down Optus’s TV Now service.

And then there was Gunn’s 2006 attempt to silence criticism of the company by suing 20 people, including Bob Brown and Tasmanian Greens leader Peg Putt, and the Wilderness Society. Or Fortescue’s lawyers attempting to shut down online criticism of the company by demanding the removal of an embarrassing video last year. Or even, after its TV Now victory, Optus’s own attempts to stop Andrew Demetriou from criticising them.

Or there’s the examples of astroturfing that regularly spring from public relations consultants’ briefs to major corporate clients: Westfield’s famous ”North Strathfield Residents’ Action Group”, or, more recently, the front groups opposed to the carbon pricing package or plain packaging for cigarettes.

In fact if you didn’t know any better, you’d swear strategic litigation, use of legal processes to silence criticism and astroturfing were standard business practices in Australia.

Strange how that was omitted by The Fin and The Oz.

Peter Fray

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