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to the People of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland from Glasshouse to
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Protestors take the fight
to Woolies’ Sydney AGM

by Simon Roper

Maleny’s activists took the fight to Woolworths’ doorstep last week. Nine representatives travelled to the retail-giant’s Annual General Meeting in Sydney November 26, protesting plans to open a store on the banks of Obi Obi Creek.

The group considered the trip a great success, as they were able to vocalise their opposition to the company’s project to board, shareholders and the whole of Australia courtesy of national media attention.

“The whole exercise was a great achievement,” said Graham Earle, a spokesperson for the Maleny Vocal Action Group. “And it wasn’t just inside the AGM – we were able to hand out leaflets to the Woolworth shareholders, press and passers by in the street and educate them to our cause.”

And a bunch of local school children were so outraged at Woolworth’s plans for Maleny after consulting with the campaigners that they stood with them on the steps of the AGM and chanted an anti-Woolworths slogan.  Meanwhile, two of Maleny’s residents infiltrated the AGM on proxy votes so they could put their questions to the company’s board of directors, headed-up by Chairman James Strong.

Michael Berry was able to speak for about seven minutes, outlining the group’s concerns over the planned Maleny development.  Michael questioned the effect on Woolworths’ share price from “pursuing growth at any cost” and why the company was continuing its plan despite protestors’ concerns about traffic, the environment and the impact on other businesses.

According to Joe Colreavy, who was present at the AGM too, Michael was afforded a round of applause by Woolworths’ own shareholders at the end of his submittal.  And in the struggle to get the media attention that their cause needs, Joe smuggled in some placards with anti-Woolies slogans on them.

“They didn’t give me a chance to put all my questions and cut me off, so I wanted to cause a disturbance,” said Joe.  “Three times Woolworth security were ordered to take my placards away.”  And although Joe was almost ejected from the meeting by the board at one point, the protestors felt that shareholders were becoming sympathetic to their cause. “Even some of the shareholders said to us outside that they also didn’t think that the board answered our questions sufficiently,” said fellow protestor Matthew Smith.

And Maleny’s campaigners weren’t the only people disgruntled at Woolworths, with international conservationists Greenpeace also present at the AGM, protesting the company’s incorporation of genetically modified foods in its retail line up.

“This new era where local people challenge big corporations has finally caught up with Woolworths,” said Jon Woodlands who also embarked on the campaign that saw the nine drive 2115kms to Sydney and back in just 36 hours.

During the protest the group also offered material detailing what they felt the proposed retail outlet would do to Maleny, its businesses and wildlife to pedestrians passing the Sydney Exhibition Centre in the capital’s bustling Darling Harbour local.  “We gave out badges, stickers, shopping bags and DVDs all outlining our cause,” said protestor Jan Duckfield.   Maleny’s community funded the material handed out by the group through donations and charity work.

Some protestors at the Wworths AGM

She added that the DVD, which contains footage of what some locals call “Black Wednesday”, when the developers first cleared the site April 14, was being streamed on the Maleny Voice website,

The site has been developed to assist with the collation and dissemination of information in relation to the struggle of some of the Maleny community against Woolworths’ supermarket plans on the bank of the Obi Obi Creek.  Also at the AGM and campaigning for the MAVG were Wayne Reid, Rodney Castle and the tree-sitter of international fame, Daniel Jones.

Our thanks once again to Cameron & Tanya Outridge
of the Range News Newspaper for this story.