One man v the system: power industry says sorry

IN THE morning, Bruce Robertson and his family were facing a lawsuit from six state electricity giants. By early afternoon, they were fielding an apology.

Grid Australia, the peak body representing the nation’s $10 billion transmission industry, had threatened to sue the cattle farmer for defamation.

As an outspoken critic of the power companies, Robertson had exposed their inflated forecasts for electricity demand, and the ”gold-plating”, or excessive spending, which has been the driving force behind the rise in electricity bills.

After revelations y about the lawsuit in the Fairfax press however, an outcry of public support for the farmer from the mid-north coast of NSW forced an embarrassing back-down.

”I’m still confused. One minute I’ve got a lawsuit on my hands, the next minute I’ve got an apology. What’s going on?” said Robertson.

The chairman of Grid Australia, Peter McIntyre, wrote to Robertson to ”sincerely apologise”. The threat of defamation proceedings had been withdrawn, he said, inviting Robertson to meet and discuss the issues.

The defamation threat from law firm Ashurst had lobbed at the Robertson property on November 5, and made a suite of demands including that he pay the costs of the solicitor’s letter.

This drastic legal action – which amounted to a cabal of big government and multinational companies suing a citizen for free speech – had been sparked by Robertson’s submission to the Senate Inquiry into electricity prices last month. In this, and in the press, he claimed Grid Australia was being dishonest in making out that rising “peak demand” was to blame for rising prices.

Robertson argued that peak demand had been falling for three years and should not be exploited by industry as the culprit for rising prices.

The South Australian transmission group ElectraNet said it was not aware of the legal action, Victoria’s SP Ausnet said it had become aware of it on Monday and was ”happy” an apology had been made. PowerlinkQueensland said little more than it was aware that Grid Australia had ”clarified its position”.

And the NSW Minister for Resources and Energy, Chris Hartcher, had nothing to say at all. A spokeswoman for Mr Hartcher said she ”supported the need for informed public debate on issues of public interest”.

The move by Grid Australia to threaten Mr Robertson was an extremely unusual one legally as governments are not allowed to sue their citizens for defamation, nor are large companies, and Grid Australia is clearly a front for state government transmission companies.

It does not appear either that there was a legal basis for action, even if Grid Australia were deemed to be a small not-for-profit organisation with a right to sue. That’s because it doesn’t appear to be registered as a legal entity.

Like any “black ops” exercise the facts are taking a while to emerge.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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