Powerless: legal heavyweights used to silence farmer  

Posted by Big Gav

Michael West at the SMH has an interesting article on attempts to silence a farmer who has successfully managed to make a lot of people aware that the huge rises in network costs for electricity costs in eastern Australia has not been due to the claimed cause (rising peak demand - demand has actually been falling in recent years) - Powerless: legal heavyweights used to silence farmer. The resulting outrage resulted in the grid companies backing down - well done Michael - 'We're sorry' - Grid Australia cans legal action.

The thing that really irks Bruce Robertson is not just that the giant power companies are threatening to sue him but that their lawyers are demanding he pay for their costs.

“It was a service I never requested," quips Robertson, who has had to resort to black humour since the letter from Grid Australia arrived out of the blue last week.

In the quintessential act of corporate bullying, the nation's electricity transmission giants are threatening to sue the corporate-analyst-turned-cattle-farmer from the mid-north coast of NSW.

Robertson has been a constant thorn in their side this year, revealing how the industry's 'gold-plating', dodgy forecasts and misleading rhetoric have been the main factors behind the nose-bleed rise in power bills.

And so Grid Australia, the peak body for the transmission giants, is trying to muzzle him with legal threats.

This story is not just about power companies gagging an outspoken critic. It is about governments too. Grid Australia's members are mostly state-owned power companies. They speak for $10 billion in network assets and they don't like Robertson accusing them of gold-plating one little bit.

Here's the catch. Governments are not allowed to sue their citizens (this is a good thing).

Nor are the other two members of Grid: Victoria's SP-Ausnet, which is controlled by a Singaporean multinational, or South Australia's transmission provider, ElectraNet, which is a consortium of powerful financiers. Both are too big to sue.

Under reforms to the defamation laws seven years ago, big companies are no longer permitted to sue (Section 9 Defamation Act, 2005). The intention of these reforms was precisely to stop this sort of intimidation by large vested interests.

They were designed to prevent large corporations from using the law for commercial purposes – to shut down bad press, among other things....

Departing from the legal aspects for a moment to deliver a layman's observation: Grid Australia is as much of a secret society, controlled by state government agencies, as it is a proper legal entity with a right to sue people for exercising their rights to free speech.

And so we have a front for Transgrid, spending a bundle of taxpayer dollars with a big-city law firm, in an effort to stop a farmer from having his say. And the taxpayers of Victoria and other states are also subsidising this ethically dubious exercise.

Already, Transgrid has spent taxpayer money securing the services of Sue Cato, often regarded as the most expensive crisis management consultant in the market, to assist with its reputational issues. Now it has resorted to lawyers.

BusinessDay has endeavoured for more than a week to contact the Ashurst staff involved in the action. We have also tried the PR department. Despite repeated requests for a response there was none forthcoming.

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