Tasmanian Liberal MHR Andrew Nikolic has thrown his support behind the state government’s plans to allow companies to sue individuals, despite it unravelling nationally uniform defamation laws. Source: The Advocate
The state government is pushing ahead with plans to amend the Defamation Act 2005 to allow businesses to take legal action against groups or individuals that spread “false and misleading information”.
The reform is intended to target environment groups that damage the reputation of the forest industry, but the opposition fears that it could have wide-ranging effects on free speech.
Mr Nikolic said green groups should be responsible for any losses or damages caused by false claims.
“This is a particularly important issue for Tasmania, given it has suffered most from these false and damaging claims, which harm the reputation of lawabiding businesses and cost Tasmanian jobs,” he said.
The government has used protest action against former timber company Gunns and Ta Ann as examples of why the reform is needed.
Deputy Labor leader Michelle O’Byrne said it was another Liberal policy that was “rotten to the core”.
“Just like their draconian and poorly thought through anti-protest legislation, these changes to defamation laws are being widely condemned,” Ms O’Byrne said.
“All Tasmanians should be concerned about these laws, which could result in individuals being sued by corporations simply for commenting on web forums or writing a letter to the editor.”
Attorney-General Vanessa Goodwin said the government would balance free speech with the potential for misleading claims to destroy jobs.
“This change gives a business with 10 employees the chance to do what a business with 9 can do – that is, challenge a false claim,” she said.
“These changes aren’t and won’t be aimed at the media. They are aimed at groups who deliberately spread misinformation about Tasmanian businesses, costing jobs.”
Franklin Labor MHR Julie Collins said: “This move by the government will not only depart from national uniformity championed by their own political party, it will turn Tasmania into a legal basket case.”