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.
”I’m still confused,” Mr Robertson said. ”One minute I’ve got a lawsuit on my hands, the next minute I’ve got an apology. What’s going on?”
Grid Australia, which represents the nation’s $10 billion transmission industry, had threatened to sue the cattle farmer for defamation.
As an outspoken critic of the power companies, Mr Robertson had exposed their inflated forecasts for electricity demand, and the ”gold-plating”, or excessive spending, which was a driving force behind the rise in bills.
But after this week’s revelations about the lawsuit, an outcry of public support for the New South Wales farmer forced a backdown. The chairman of Grid Australia, Peter McIntyre, wrote to Mr Robertson to “sincerely apologise”.
The threat of defamation proceedings had been withdrawn, he said, inviting Mr Robertson to meet and talk.
The defamation threat had arrived at the Robertson property on November 5, and made demands that included that he pay the costs of the solicitor’s letter.
This drastic legal action – which amounted to government and multinational companies suing a citizen for free speech – had been sparked by Mr 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.
Mr Robertson argued that peak demand had been falling for three years and should not be exploited for rising prices.
Grid Australia’s threat was unusual, as governments are not allowed to sue their citizens for defamation.
With PHIL COOREY