Do you want fries with that?

According to McDonald’s, they are “proud to play an active role in neighbourhoods all over Australia”. But what happens when they aren’t wanted in a community? If Tecoma (40 km east of Melbourne in the Dandenong Ranges) is any indication, the community is ignored.

Last Sunday a flashmob descended on the Knox shopping centre to highlight the community’s opposition to McDonald’s opening in their town.

Burger OffMcDonald’s application for a 24 hour drive through store at Tecoma in 2011 was met by 1170 objections to Council. In October when the matter came before the Shire of Yarra Ranges Council, they unanimously rejected the proposal. Not surprisingly, McDonald’s did not accept this decision and took the issue to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) who, nearly a year later, overturned Council’s decision stating there was not “objective” evidence that would deny the application. In response the community occupied the land and planted a community garden.

The community garden was maintained, with a 24 hour/day vigil, until they were evicted a month later (in November 2012) by the police.  The Council voted against appealing the VCAT decision in the Supreme Court because it was not a responsible way to spend Council Funds. Since construction began earlier this year, community members have been disrupting work and blockading trucks from getting in and out of the site. (For more about the history see http://www.burgeroff.org/.)

While the Council could not afford to challenge the decision in court, McDonald’s is suing eight of the community members opposing the store coming to their town. McDonald’s is claiming unspecified damages for “wrongly interfering with McDonald’s use and enjoyment of the McDonald’s Land”. The community actions have delayed the expected opening date, which was 15 November 2013.

According to McDonald’s, the company will lose an estimated $10,000 in sales and cash flow of between $3000-$4000 for each day the store was not open. In addition, the community action has cost the company $13,000 a week in “delayed constructions costs,” and security guards at the sites are costing $55,600 a week.

A court injunction, in place until 20 September, means that protesters who break the injunction could be charged with contempt of court.

This is not the first time McDonald’s has sued protesters. In the McLibel case in the UK, Helen Steel and Dave Morris were taken to court by McDonald’s in the longest ever English trial (two and a half years). While the judge found that some of the claims made by the pair were true (e.g. that McDonald’s endangered the health of their workers and customers by “misleading advertising”, exploited children, were “culpably responsible” in the infliction of unnecessary cruelty to animals, and were “antipathetic” to unionisation and paid their workers low wages), other allegations were liable.

Because the McLibel defendants were denied legal aid, they represented themselves (with probono support), and spent £30,000, where as McDonald’s spent millions of pounds.

Location of McDonald's in Melbourne

Location of McDonald’s in Melbourne

When you look at a map of how many McDonald’s stores there are in Melbourne, you can see why they want a store in the Dandenong ranges. Even though they are so wide spread, the pursuit of continual growth means that we are never satisfied with what we have.

Next time you go to McDonald’s, think about the sort of community you want to live in. Do you want to support large multi-national corporations that promote profit over people, or do you want to support small businesses the promote resilience and diversity?

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About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), environmentalist, Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace & sustainability.
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