Last updated 14 September 2020
Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) writs refer to litigation by developers and others for the purpose of silencing public opponents.
Defamation proceedings by the developer against key vocal community opponents to a major development are a classic SLAPP technique. Community members involved in environmental disputes should be aware of this tactic and be careful to avoid public comments that can be construed as defamation. Stating or implying that the developer has lied or that the development is fraudulent or corrupt are examples of defamatory statements. To avoid defamatory statements, stick to the environmental or policy reasons why the development should not proceed. The Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) has published a factsheet on avoiding defamation for community groups and environmental activists.
Direct action (e.g. a person chaining themselves to a tree to stop a bulldozer) has been a media tool for many environmental campaigns in Australia and internationally. Be aware that such action invariably involves a trespass, which is an offence. If a court grants an injunction to restrain such a trespass, breach of the injunction constitutes a contempt of court for which imprisonment may result. Public rallies and protests may also require a police permit, and failure to obey police directions may result in fines or imprisonment. Violence and damage to property, in addition to generating a negative public reaction, are criminal offences and should be strictly avoided. The EDO has published a factsheet on peaceful protests.