AGL is taking Greenpeace to court. What does that mean for advocacy?
12 May 2021 at 2:51 pm
“Charities and members of civil society need to be able to use their freedom of speech”
Energy giant AGL launching legal action against Greenpeace Australia Pacific sets a “chilling” precedent for future campaigns, charity advocates say.
The company took action against the charity over Greenpeace’s recent report and online advertisements targeting AGL as Australia’s largest corporate polluter.
The campaign features AGL’s logo and phrases such as “generating pollution for generations” and “still Australia’s biggest climate polluter”.
The company’s legal team served Greenpeace with an application for an urgent interlocutory injunction, demanding the charity remove any identifying AGL logos from its campaign. This was denied by a judge on Friday, but the matter will be back in the Federal Court in Sydney on 2 June.
Glenn Walker, senior campaigner for Greenpeace Australia Pacific, said the charity was gearing up to meet AGL’s legal challenge.
“By throwing legal roadblocks in our path, AGL is trying to sink our campaign exposing the company as Australia’s biggest climate polluter,” Walker said.
“But we’re ready for a David and Goliath battle, and the truth is on our side.”
Concern for future campaigns
Katrina Bullock, Greenpeace Australia Pacific’s general counsel, told Pro Bono News that she believed the copyright and trademark claim was an attempt to stifle criticism of their pollution, and the outcome of the case would set an important precedent for future campaigns.
“Charities and members of civil society need to be able to use their freedom of speech and use logos and parody things when they want to critique an organisation or government,” Bullock said.
“If we win, that will allow charities and not for profits to be able to run those campaigns without fearing litigation… but if we were to lose this in court, there would be a chilling effect across the charity sector where charities wouldn’t want to run these types of campaigns.”
An AGL spokesperson told Pro Bono News that the company had no intention of stifling public debate, and reserved the right to defend their brand.
“The legal application seeks to prevent unlawful use of the AGL brand – including our logo – as part of a third party campaign and is not at all intended to silence the campaign itself,” the spokesperson said.
The past few months have seen rising concern from a number of charity leaders about the ability for charities to freely advocate.
The federal government is looking to change the governance standards for charities to make clear that a registered organisation must not engage in offences such as trespassing, theft, vandalism or assault, or use their resources to promote or support these activities.
Charities would face deregistration not only if they engage in these offences, but also if they fail to take reasonable steps to ensure their resources are not used to promote or support unlawful conduct.
Keeping the pressure on
Bullock said that while the outcome of the case was being decided, it was important for consumers and members of civil society to use their voice and their dollars to keep up the pressure on polluting companies.
“We’re asking consumers to be really aware of where they’re getting their energy and whether that comes from renewable sources,” she said.
“As well as this, [we want] investors to be aware of where they’re spending their money and how they’re punishing or rewarding the conduct of companies that are engaging in these sorts of activities.”
This article was updated on 13 May to include comments from AGL.