It’s important for the public to have their say on resource management decisions and to protest against decisions that they disagree with. It’s also important to be aware of the legal risks involved and to protect yourself.
This website isn’t designed to discuss these issues in detail, however there are plenty of resources available to help you and your organisation to understand the laws and to manage your risks. There are a few key things to be aware of.
Incorporating your group
Incorporation is not just for large not for profit groups, there are also benefits for smaller groups. Incorporating a group gives the group its own legal identity, separate from the individual members of the group. This means assets and liabilities can be held in the name of the organisation, rather than in your own name on behalf of the group.
Beyond protecting individuals, incorporation can have practical implications for groups, for example, allowing bank accounts to be opened and offices to be rented in the name of the group itself. This helps protect the group members if problems arise, for example a break in the lease or fire. Incorporation can assist with getting insurance for public events, and many grant organisations will only provide grants to incorporated associations.
The key disadvantage of incorporation is that your organisation will be required to comply with additional legal requirements, such as preparing annual reports and possibly having your accounts audited (if your income and assets exceed $40,000).
A great guide to help you consider whether to incorporate, what structure is best for your group and what you’ll need to do is available from Our Community.
Other useful resources include:
- Landcare Tasmania’s guide to incorporating a group
- Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading fact sheets for incorporated associations
It is important to consider any statement that you or your organisation is making to avoid defamatory statements. This includes speaking to the media, issuing press releases, publishing articles or fact sheets, making statements on social media or speeches made a public events.
When is a statement defamatory?
Laws of defamation are complex. In general, if something that you say (or write) conveys a meaning, whether explicit or implied, which tends to:
- lower a person’s reputation in the eyes of ordinary reasonable members of the community
- lead ordinary people to ridicule, avoid, think less of or despise the person
- injure the person’s reputation in their trade or their profession
that statement may be defamatory.
Who can be defamed?
In Tasmania, most corporations cannot take action for defamation. However, individuals, not-for-profit corporations and companies employing fewer than 10 people may still have an action in defamation.
Even if they cannot sue for defamation, companies may also have other legal options to pursue your group (for example, they may seek damages for loss of business).
Things to remember:
- Focus on the issue, not a particular person’s actions.
- In legal terms, you have ‘published’ a statement as soon as you say it, write it on Facebook or distribute it in a leaflet. It is a good idea to always have someone look over your speeches or publications to give you a second opinion on whether what you are saying is reasonable.
Some useful resources on avoiding defamation:
- Tasmanian Law Handbook
- Bush lawyers guide – “Avoiding being sued for defamation”
- Speaking Wisely – a guide to managing public comments
Protesting is an important right, but can have significant consequences if you are arrested for your protest activities. In 2014 the Tasmanian Government passed laws which make it an offence to:
- Prevent, hinder or obstruct the carrying out of a business activity, including by entering a business premises, doing an act on a business premises or preventing access to a business premises. These actions will only be an offence if the protester has been issued with a direction by police not to carry out a “protest activity” in the previous 3 months.
Note: A person will not be hindering or obstructing a business if they are taking part in a march or event that passes the business, provided the march moves “at a reasonable speed” and passes the business only once in a day.
- Cause, or threaten to cause, damage to a business premises or business-related object (e.g. machinery) or safety risks at the business. While it is not clear, this offence appears to be restricted to physical damage, rather than purely financial damage (e.g. loss of trade).
- Refuse to leave a business access area when directed to do so by police
- Return to a business access area within 4 days of being directed to leave by the police
- Prevent the police from removing an obstruction
The penalties under the Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Act 2014 include heavy fines and imprisonment. For an overview of how these laws apply to forest protests, click here.
Some useful resources for planning activities – including marches, rallies, public meetings, information stalls and social media campaigns – are available at Activist Rights.