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"Costs order against Blue Wedges a bad sign for democracy" - Greens MP Sue Pennicuik

Today, on 16 July 2008, Victorian Greens MP, Sue Pennicuik, called it,

“... another sign of the sad state of our democracy that the state government and Port of Melbourne have pursued another community for daring to oppose their actions."

She explained that, "While Justice North may have had no legal option to the awarding of costs against Blue Wedges for taking court action, he made it clear that he disapproved of the Government arguing for scalps to hang on the fence so that other community groups would know what to expect when they challenge government decisions in court."

Ms Pennicuik warned, “It is imperative that government decisions that can profoundly affect the community and the environment, like channel deepening and the desalination plant, can be challenged by the community without the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads."

She said, "It’s bad enough that developers and corporations are able to gain access to ministers and political influence through donations, but it seems pretty clear that access to the courts is only for those with deep pockets." In her opinion, "If the community can't take action in the courts against poor government decisions then we effectively have government by Executive."

She denounced government ethics, saying that, "The modus operandi of this government, in publicly insulting and attempting to discredit community groups and then pursuing costs against them, is appalling."

She pointed out that the environmental laws give activists for the public welfare few if any options outside the courts:
"The earlier judgement by Justice North regarding the Blue Wedges case already showed that our state and federal environment laws don't protect the environment...", said Sue Pennicuik.

But, the Courts cannot protect the environment either, and activists are penalised for attempting to bring their arguments to the public via the court process. "The awarding of costs yesterday, while technically legal, is a sign of how the legal machinery may silence critics of the government and PoMC."

Rightly, Ms Pennicuik reminded the government of its obligation to listen to and act on public criticism in a positive democratic manner. "The community is not the enemy and the government would do better listening to what people have to say rather silencing critics," Ms Pennicuik stated.

In conclusion, she expressed concern, "... about the implications of the current legal system for justice and democracy,"
and announced that she would "be looking at ways to prevent governments from squashing community voices."

Bravo Sue! Victoria needs your voice and others to join their voice with yours.

From a Greens Media Release 16 July 2008
Further information: Sue Pennicuik 0409 055 875

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As the Victorian government assures us the economy will boom if only we trust them on channel-deepening, it looks like "economic hit men" are thriving somewhere in Melbourne. We are expected to trust in the planning for Melbourne 2030, roadways, desalination and more. In the meantime courts effectively fine community groups who dare to question any of these matters.

What's ahead? With Sue and the Greens holding legitimate political positions, I feel encouraged. Knowing the dedication of community leaders and their supporters, I feel encouraged. Knowing that I've experienced major shifts in community attitudes over 30-40 years*, I feel encouraged. (*eg smoking, premarital sex and single parenting are vastly different to the 1960's)

Bold, vocal, steadfast leaders do make a positive difference. Speak up and speak out! The snowball effect is unstoppable.

I have just posted the following to Marvellous Melbourne:

Sheila Newman has reproduced on our site the media release of Greens MLA Sue Pennicuik concerning the awarding of court costs against Blue Wedges. They were awarded reluctantly by the Judge because the Victorian Government insisted. This represents a dire threat to our democracy when a group such as Blue Wedges acting with the best interests of the public and our environment at is left, as a result of a blatantly rigged environmental impact assessment process, with no choice but to challenge the government in court.

I think we must all get behind Blue Wedges and help them in what ever way we can to overcome the terrible predicament they now find themselves in and we must raise our voices so that all those responsible for this outrage are held to account for what they have done.

Copyright notice: Reproduction of this material is encouraged as long as the source is acknowledged.