It seems that primary industries in Tasmania hold the government
in a vice-like grip. First they persuaded the government that it
should pass Draconian antiprotesting laws late last year. Now,
they've also convinced the government that it's a good idea
to try to unwind uniform national defamation laws and legislate an
action for corporate defamation in Tasmania.
Industry players want to fix a legal loophole by which there is
not much legal recourse for companies when environmental
campaigners peddle misinformation. Unlike the companies, the
environmentalists are not usually liable for misleading or
deceptive conduct under the Competition and Consumer Act.
And there is (currently) no defamation action available to
corporations with more than ten employees anywhere in
But changing Tasmanian defamation laws is not the answer. It
will stuff up defamation for the whole country.
Ten years ago all the state governments enacted uniform
defamation laws around Australia. Uniformity in defamation laws is
actually super important, especially in the days of internet
publications and national news. That's because the law says
that you can potentially face a defamation action anywhere that a
defamatory publication is read. For defamation plaintiffs, that
means they can often choose to sue in the place with the most
favourable laws. On the internet, plaintiffs might choose from any
number of local and foreign jurisdictions.
If Tasmania changes its laws to allow corporate defamation,
it's going to become one of the most plaintiff-friendly
defamation jurisdictions around. It won't just see an increase
in actions from Tasmanian plaintiffs. It will see a massive influx
of actions from other parts of Australia and even the rest of the
world. It renders uniformity between the other states useless.
Being a hot defamation destination is not a good thing. The
courts get jammed with foreign and trivial claims. Wealthy
companies use the legal system to bully defendants into settlements
or run them into bankruptcy. The chilling effect on free speech
rapidly outweighs the public interest in protecting people against
These consequences go well beyond the government's intention
to fix the loophole for environmentalists. The government needs to
rethink this. Corporate defamation in Tasmania is a really, really
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This was an interlocutory decision about the appointment of a tutor for the child appellant, to carry on his proceedings.
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