The Synod of Victoria and Tasmania was part of a successful campaign to stop the Tasmanian Liberal Government allowing large businesses to silence their critics through the use of defamation laws.
The government flagged its proposed changes prior to being elected last year in response to what it saw as environmental groups unfairly and inaccurately targeting timber businesses. But the proposed changes would have allowed large businesses to sue not just environmental groups, but any critic, be that a journalist or individual community member.
The synod wrote to the Attorney-General, Dr Vanessa Goodwin, in December opposing the changes to the laws and the Presbytery of Tasmania raised concerns publicly in the media.
Last month Dr Goodwin said a lack of support from interstate counterparts, public concern and concerns from the media were the key reasons behind the government’s decision to abandon the changes.
The proposed law would have been a big set-back for the social justice work of the Commission for Mission (CFM) in cases where a company had criminal activity in its operations or supply chain. Such cases have come up regularly in the work of the CFM.
Even where the company would have had no hope of success in court, legal action can cost a media outlet, non-government organisation or individual crippling amounts of money to fight. This would act as a substantial deterrent to any criticism of large, well-resourced companies.
The Law Society of Tasmania argued the proposed changes would have had ‘a chilling effect’ on freedom of speech.