The Tecoma 8
Eight community members were sued by the McDonald’s corporation for peacefully protesting against the planned store in Tecoma in the Dandenong Ranges.
The small township of Tecoma has been fighting a two year battle against the inappropriate development of a McDonalds in its main street. To read the background to this sustained community campaign go to burgeroff.org This struggle has raised questions about the rights of local communities to have proper input into the planning process. Recent developments however raise the question, do we have the right to protest against powerful interests at all?
Roof Occupation and blockading begins
On the July 1st, McDonalds began to attempt to demolish the old Hazelvale Dairy on the development site and the community immediately began to peacefully protest in large numbers. An occupation of the roof and a determined blockade of the site to prevent trucks and contractors entering began. By the third day of the blockade, construction was shut down when the CFMEU pulled all workers off the site due to safety concerns and out of respect for the community’s wishes.
McDonalds sues the eight
In an outrageous use of the courts, on Tuesday 16th July McDonald’s began serving papers on the “Tecoma 8”, summoning them to appear in the Supreme Court on July 18th. The 8 individuals being sued were being held responsible by McDonald’s for all the damages and costs McDonald’s allegedly faced in relation to delays to construction. Melbourne’s Herald-Sun estimated the initial costs sought to be $325,000.
The interim injunctionin place until the 1st August, not only placed restrictions on the 8 people served but anybody who entered the McDonald’s site, without their consent, between 1 and 17 July 2013 and unnamed persons who impeded the access of workers or vehicles to the McDonald’s site between 1 and 17 July 2013.
The injunction not only prevents all those covered from protesting non-violently within a specified area but also prevents them encouraging others to continue to non-violently resist the demolition at the site. The judge said that social media was not to be used by those covered by the injunction as “a call to arms”. The McDonald’s lawyers brought into court as evidence reams of screenshots from social media. This is arguably the most undemocratic and controversial part of the interim order.
All of the people named in the suit were accused of no more than non-violent civil disobedience resulting in minor criminal charges such as trespass. One of the eight is alleged to have momentarily delayed a truck in an incident in which they were not even charged with an offense. Others were accused of acts such as briefly being on a roof to take photos or delaying a portaloo truck! McDonald’s has also cited as evidence their “incitement” of others because they dared to give interviews to the press or encourage people to protest on social media.
On 6 September McDonald’s filed a ‘Statement of Claim’. This is the document that sets out exactly what remedies McDonald’s is seeking from the ‘Tecoma 8′ and the people in Groups A to D. In that document it was made clear that:
- McDonald’s is seeking a permanent injunction to prevent the Tecoma 8, and any of the people in Groups A to D, from doing the things prohibited by the current injunction;
- McDonald’s are not seeking any compensation for the losses they have suffered as a result of the protest;
- McDonald’s are seeking legal costs from the Tecoma 8. These could be very expensive.
On 20 September Justice Kyrou of the Supreme Court will make a decision about whether or not to grant the permanent injunction, what it should cover, and who it should apply to. A decision about legal costs may be made at that hearing or at a later date.
As previously noted, on 27 August there was a hearing in the Supreme Court about the injunction that had been ordered on 18 July. At that hearing, the lawyers for the Tecoma 8 argued that the Court did not have the power to make an injunction binding unnamed community members. McDonald’s argued that the injunction was valid, and should be extended to cover anyone who had trespassed onto their property, or who had impeded the access of workers or vehicles to the site, between 18 July and 26 August.
On 20 September Justice Kyrou gave his judgment about this matter. He decided that the Court did have the power to make such an injunction, and that it should cover anybody who had trespassed on the site, or impeded access to it, between 1 July and 26 August. He made a new injunction to reflect this decision.
Maurice Blackburn Press Releases and Announcement
31 October 2013
Mediation resolves “Tecoma 8” legal case with McDonalds
The legal case between protesters opposed to a fast-food outlet and McDonalds Australia has been resolved following a court-ordered mediation held in Melbourne on 29 October,2013.
A McDonalds outlet is currently being built in Tecoma in the Dandenong Ranges and is the subject of a high-profile community campaign.
The settlement is still subject to approval by Justice Kyrou of the Supreme Court of Victoria. McDonalds and the defendants have agreed on a joint statement about the settlement (see below).
“The firm has acted pro bono in this case because peaceful protest is fundamental to civil rights and democracy.”
Joint statement of Maurice Blackburn and McDonalds Australia
“The parties wish to announce that agreement has been reached to settle the Supreme Court proceedings by McDonald’s Australia against eight defendants as well as the people for whom they were appointed as representatives by the Court. The proceedings concerned protest activities regarding construction of a McDonald’s outlet in Tecoma.
As part of the agreement, McDonald’s has agreed to discontinue the proceedings and is not seeking any legal costs from the defendants. In exchange, the defendants have agreed personally and on behalf of those they represent not to undertake activities which may constitute trespass or nuisance until 30 June 2014. If the settlement agreement is breached, McDonald’s has the right to reinstate proceedings against any of the named parties. McDonald’s can also seek other remedies against any others bound by the orders if they are breached, including applying to issue proceedings for contempt of Court. The order sought will allow the defendants and those they represent access to the footpath in front of the site except for the purpose of engaging in trespass, nuisance or harassing or intimidating people on the McDonalds land.
The parties will now jointly seek approval of the resolution by the Supreme Court. The existing injunction continues until the Supreme Court makes that order.
All parties are pleased to have reached agreement and for the Supreme Court case to be finally resolved.”
McDonald’s are watching you!
The level of surveillance by McDonald’s of citizens protesting against them has also been extraordinary. Private security have constantly been photographing people and surveillance cameras have been erected round the site. Social media has been trawled for evidence of “incitement”. All of this evidence is now being used to identify and sue individuals including posts from people’s personal Facebook pages. Posts from the campaign page Burger Off and the Facebook pages No MacDonalds in the Dandenong Ranges and No Maccas in the Hills were submitted as evidence. The “about” sections of both pages were cited to demonstrate their purpose to organise peaceful protests.
While unaffected Tecoma residents have attempted to continue protesting, the convoluted nature of the court rulings has been used against them. A concerted attempt has been made by the security force retained by McDonald’s to misinform, bluff and intimidate protestors by false warnings and threats backed by hundreds of intrusive photos of peaceful protestors.
A test case for civil liberties?
This is nothing short of corporate bullying of ordinary citizens of the worst kind. If this law suit stands then it sends a warning to all groups whose non-violent protest costs a large corporation or powerful interest money. A precedent whereby the courts are used to target individuals and hold them responsible for the actions of the whole demonstration could affect union pickets, environmental direct actions, students protests, or other residents groups opposing development. Do ordinary citizens need to feel they are risking their houses just to take part in a non-violent act of civil disobedience against powerful interests who can ‘buy’ their decisions through expensive court processes?