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Maple Street Co-op News Articles of Particular Relevance

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From Maple Street Coop News, August/September 2005 issue
Published by Maple Street Co-op, 37 Maple Street, Maleny Qld 4552
Tel 5494 2088, email maplest.coop@serv.net.au
website http://www.maplestreetco-op.com.au

Maleny's Community Spirit

by Lori Sturtz

Protesters began to gather well before dawn on Tuesday 12 July, and stood like sentries on the lookout for an approaching threat.  Slowly but surely their numbers increased, and they greeted newcomers and nervously tried to lighten the mood with joking banter.  Just before first light, sirens pierced the quiet and at least 130 police officers stormed into Maleny.  “Operation Foundation” had begun. 

Police officers physically removed protesters from Camp Platypus on the supermarket site, which many had called home in the weeks leading up to this confrontation.  This exercise cost taxpayers an estimated $140,000 (over three days) to remove and keep out concerned citizens from the site of a future Woolworths that most Maleny residents do not want.  Since when did social activism become confused with terrorism?  This number of police is usually employed for large and potentially violent crowds and would seem very heavy-handed for a peaceful protest in a small town like Maleny - as has been proved with increasing numbers of protesters and fewer numbers of police in most of the recent weekend rallies and marches.

Some protesters referred to 12 July as “Day One” instead of “the Final Day” or “the Last Stand” at Camp Platypus.  As the excavators moved in, it was as if the hearts of the protesters were being ripped apart - and so was the heart of Maleny.  They stood behind an intimidating, stony-faced wall of blue and watched, cried, screamed and bellowed for the destruction to stop, but to no avail.

At some point, the mood of the crowd began to change.  Hopelessness and despair soon turned to defiance, strength and unity.  These feelings have persisted and the Maleny protest has gathered much strength and support in the ensuing weeks, as many more residents and businesspeople realise just what is at stake in our town.  Yet Camp Platypus will stay in the hearts of those who were part of it, whether physically or in spirit, and it remains a symbol of a growing movement against corporate power and greed.

On Thursday 14 July, Greg Quinn, MD of Hutchinson Builders and a director of site owner Uniton Pty Ltd, said the community could have the land for $2 million - if we could come up with the cash within 24 hours.  So an amazing fund-raising marathon was set in motion and the money flowed in from community supporters here and farther afield.  On Saturday 16 July, with hundreds of residents waiting outside the gate, community representatives tried to present the cheque to Greg Quinn - but he relayed the message that Woolworths would not accept the offer and the deal was off. 

As the news spread, people stood in shock and disbelief until a raised voice declared, “Let's march”.  And so hundreds marched up Maple Street and back again, chanting “We won't, we won't shop there!” as people in cafés and shops clapped and cheered and even rang bells.  When protesters were up the street and away from the site, Mr Quinn chose this opportunity to slip out of town quietly, avoiding a confrontation. 

Support for the Maleny protest has come from diverse parts of the community, including the traditional owners of the land, as well as from southeast Queensland and all over Australia.  It's even been heard that several Native American tribes are drumming and chanting for our cause.

Maleny locals are trying to protect a very special place from a huge corporation that refuses to listen to the majority of people in the town.  A recent poll done for the Range News by an independent market research company found that 79% of its sample of Maleny residents oppose a Woolies on the Obi Obi site.  The main reasons given were traffic chaos, adverse local business impact and environmental concerns. 

State of surveillance

Queensland's Nature Conservation Act states that the platypus must be protected.  A geological study conducted in July found eight burrows that extend 25 to 30 metres into the footprint of the proposed supermarket.  Anyone who injures a platypus or damages its habitat can be taken to court. 

Hutchinson's Greg Quinn still seems to think there are no platypuses at the site, even though many of the police and protesters have seen them swimming in the adjacent creek on numerous occasions.  He also seems to make no connection between platypuses and burrows.  The Range News (28 July) had an amusing take on this with a cover photo of Daniel Jones (bunya tree superman) in the platypus suit, trying to dodge a policeman after jumping the site fence.  He was arrested, and the suit (named “Obi”) continues to be held as evidence ahead of the court case, though efforts are being made to have Obi returned. 

This campaign has come up against camouflaged surveillance cameras, alleged mobile phone taps, hidden agendas, false accusations, threats and conspiracy theories.  Five hidden cameras were found by protesters and a few of them had wires leading into Maleny Hotel (“Heart of the Hinterland”) next door (rumour has it that Woolworths may now be a part-owner).  One protester made a bunch of mock cameras (covered in lichen, like the real ones) and protesters installed them along the site fence, much to the chagrin of one policeman who thought they were real.  (One of these mock cams can be seen in the Co-op window that Sue Verstraten designed).

In recent weeks, a surveillance camera high up on the telegraph pole outside the Bunya Street site has been watching all pedestrian and traffic movements, linked up to a monitor at Landsborough Police Station (one protester saw a group of police gathered around it when he looked in past the door).  Who needs to watch Big Brother when we now have our own reality show right here in Maleny!

A SLAPP in the face

Several protesters including Daniel Jones and also Platypus Group spokesperson Jon Woodlands have been arrested and at least 11 have been issued with letters from Hutchinson's solicitors, threatening writs against them for losses and damages exceeding $4 million.  Greg Quinn told ABC Radio's JJJ (26 July), when asked if he would be issuing more writs, that he also had data on many other protesters. 

These threatened writs are examples of SLAPPs - Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation - and they are increasingly being used to prevent individuals and groups from expressing opposing points of view.  The purpose of these SLAPP lawsuits is to harass, intimidate, punish, distract and cause financial loss, personal and emotional stress, division and diversion.  SLAPPs could deprive us of liberties such as freedom of speech and our right to peaceful protest, which are the cornerstones of our democracy.

The most high-profile SLAPP case in Australia is the defamation action by forestry company Gunns against 20 environmental organisations and activists.  Justice Bongiorno adjourned the case on 18 July, describing Gunns' writ as “unintelligible” and “embarrassing” and stating that it would be “unfair to the defendants to require them to plead to this "Statement of Claim”.  He also described it as “at best ambiguous and at worst misleading”.  Gunns has until 18 August to lodge an Amended Statement in its multimillion-dollar case against The Wilderness Society and 19 others.  (For more information on SLAPPs, go to the website www.uow.edu.au/arts/sts/sbeder/SLAPPs.html.)

However, SLAPPs are not restricted to environmentalists and activists.  They are most often used against ordinary middle-class citizens who are concerned about their local environment and who don't have the support or funding that expert environmentalists in large organisations may have.

In the ACT, Greens MP Deb Foskey has introduced a bill against SLAPPs:  Amendment Bill 2005 (Protection of Public Participation).  She says:  “The best way to deal with SLAPPs is to try to make sure that the law provides an even playing field and discourages the rich and powerful from using the law as a sledgehammer.”

The campaign expands

The anti-Woolworths protest in Maleny has gone national in the media (7.30 Report; Radio National) and with a dramatic full-page ad headed “Don't Shop There” in the Weekend Australian (23–24 July), authorised by Steven Lang of Rosetta Books.  It lifted morale and empowered protesters at a time when so many were feeling discouraged.  The inclusion of the MalenyVoice.com website address means that thousands more people around Australia are now tuned in to this issue. 

At the 650-strong rally held on 30 July, Steven Lang said that we could change Woolworths' profits by 5% just by getting 150,000 Woolies shoppers to stop shopping there.  He also noted that the Obi Obi site development is 2,400 square metres in area and in order to be successful it must turn over $12,500 per square metre annually, which is about $30 million.  This is more than the total of all the money spent by Maleny people on groceries here and at the coast every year!

Maleny protesters continue to find creative ways to educate others about this campaign, and are committed to remaining non-violent and non-destructive.  For example, people in their droves are joining the “WOT” (Woolworths Operation Trolley) Campaign and are targeting Woolworths stores all over the Sunshine Coast, in Brisbane and interstate.  They are filling up trolleys with non-perishable items and leaving them in the supermarket with information about the Maleny protest.  Copies of the Range News cover story of 28 July have been photocopied and left in Woolies trolleys and on windscreens in customer carparks. 

Some critics say there are more important causes to support, but it is important to remember that no cause is too small and that standing up to domineering corporations, developers and governments sends a very powerful message to them.  Let's keep rocking their foundations!

Further References:
www.malenyvoice.com; www.abc.net.au; www.findlaw.com.au; www.wilderness.org.au

From Maple Street Co-op News,
August/September 2005 issue
Published by Maple Street Co-op,
37 Maple Street, Maleny, Qld 4552,
tel 07 5494 2088, email maplest.coop@serv.net.au
website http://www.maplestreetco-op.com.au

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