Scott Morrison told to act on Greenie ‘lawfare’
The article below is one of many complaints about the costs and losses of Greenie activism in the courts. Such activism goes on all the time and is huge in its financial impact. You can hardly cut a tree down without being hit by an expensive lawsuit.
If a income-producing project is held up for some years in the courts, the income that might have been generated over that period is forever lost. That is what economists call an opportunity cost.
But there are large explicit costs too. Very often the property will have to be maintained in some way during the waiting period and if it has been acquired with the aid of a bank loan, interest payments will have to be made during the period. Those can be big costs. The article below estimates that projects worth about $65bn have been delayed since 2000 in Australia but that figure probably does not include the costs incurred before the project gets started.
So what to do about it all? The article below puts forward a number of relatiely mild suggestions but the most effective measure would be to reinstate the old legal principle that the costs follow the verdict. If you cause a person costs and losses by a lawsuit against him and you lose the lawsuit, you should have to pay the costs incurred by your target in defending himself.
For some reason that basic principle of natural justice usually seems to get lost in environmental lawsuits. The righteousness of the litigant is somehow taken as insulating him from the costs of his actions. That must stop. Greenie donors have deep pockets but even they might think twice when asked to pay the lost income of a big mining project (for instance).
At the moment a lot of lawsuits are terminated by an agreed settlement and that settlement usually specifies that both parties will bear their own costs. Corrective legislation would have to bar settlents from including such a clause. Strict liability would have to be enforced where environmental lawsuits are concerned.
The shire of Broome is calling on Scott Morrison to crack down on activist charities that are “destroying existing industries” and blocking job-creating resources projects in Western Australia.
The council, which is located in the Kimberley region wants regulatory changes to give “accountability requirements” to charities that are using regulatory measures to delay or deter new projects.
Under the changes proposed by the council, activist charities that engage in misleading and deceptive conduct should either lose their charitable status or face being fined.
Charities would also be required to declare their expenditure on political activities; the remuneration of management; their top 20 donors; all government grants received; and any financial support given to other organisations involved in political advocacy.
The council passed the motion in late February, calling on its chief executive, Sam Mastrolembo, to make the demands in a letter to the Prime Minister.
“They are able to engage in unethical conduct because there is very little regulation holding them to account,” the council wrote in its draft letter.
“Should a public company or pastoralist act in the same manner and spread false information to the public, there would be considerable financial penalties and reputational damage. Not so for these charitable groups.”
The Australian revealed last week that “green” activists had used environmental laws to delay about $65bn worth of projects since 2000. The legal proceedings from conservation and green groups have forced companies into court for more than 10,000 days in the past 20 years.
In the past four years, the activist groups have used the federal environmental protection act to cause delays to seven major projects in regional areas, including the $16.5bn Adani coalmine in Queensland.
Resources Minister Keith Pitt told The Australian he would support any move to stop green groups using excessive legal claims to delay projects.
“People in regional areas are sick of seeing significant, job-creating resources projects delayed by court action launched by activists with no connection to their area,” he said.
The development of the $31bn Browse Basin has faced delays for more than seven years after the Supreme Court of WA upheld legal protests from the Wilderness Society.
The development of the massive gas field is unlikely to start until 2021.
The council’s draft letter says activist charities are causing unemployment by “destroying legitimate industries that are the lifeblood of regional towns”.
“These activists are causing tax collection to decrease by destroying existing industries and preventing new tax-paying industries from being created,” the draft letter says.
“These groups are funded by faceless, unaccountable billionaires and millionaires, many of whom don’t live in Australia.
“Those whose livelihoods the activists destroy or disadvantage have no means to see who pulls the strings in the background.”