May 11 2007
THE PEOPLE'S VOICE
Speaker: Mark Parnell M.L.C.
In March 2006, at the last State Election, Mark Parnell became the
first member of the Australian Greens Party to win a Seat in the South
Australian State Parliament. Last September Mark introduced his first
Private Member's Bill -"The Protection of Public Participation
Bill" - to the S.A. Legislative Council for its first reading. A
Press Release issued in December was headed "Greens to put brakes
on bullying developers,' and stated the main aim of his Bill was
"to prevent developers from using the legal system to intimidate
citizens exercising their right to free speech." Stated another
way, a principal intention behind this Bill, will be to provide legal
protection for persons engaging in public debate on public interest
issues, "by preventing the use of SLAPPS", a term standing for
Strategic litigation Against Public Participation.
A SLAPP suit is formally defined as a civil lawsuit brought in
relation to a political issue which has the effect of silencing
community debate or constraining political activity; usually by way of
threatening lawyers' letters followed by legal writs, alleging such
things as defamation, huge losses of earnings, etc. etc. Our Speaker
lamented what he called, a growing trend for developers in recent
decades, to resort to using legal intimidation tactics in order to
inhibit or stifle debate, and he pointed to a number of real-life
examples, including the "Gunns 20'1 case over woodchipping of
native forests in Tasmania which has attracted considerable publicity.
Imagine the following scenario: A large warehouse building right
across the street from where you and other residents live, changes the
nature of its operations to become a manufacturing site. The products
being manufactured create some very unpleasant fumes that may contain
various toxins and chemicals. These fumes are expelled via a large
chimney stack that carry directly across to yours and neighbour's homes,
polluting the general air and severely affecting the quality of life for
residents in its path. Eventually, and only after many frustrations with
residents' complaints and enquiries seemingly getting nowhere, This
issue gets some coverage in the local Press.: Pit of a mild report which
doesn't take a real look at serious health consequences from the
pollution. This fires up you and one of your neighbours, to write a
vigorous letter to the newspaper going into explicit detail on the
health problems, and raising serious questions about lack of action from
various governmental authorities.
Then one day, you and your neighbour receive by special delivery, an
unpleasant letter from the Company's lawyers threatening writs for
defamation and potentially huge monetary damages unless, within 7 days,
you both fully comply with stipulated demands for a full public apology
and complete retraction of all criticisms made. The date - Xmas Eve and
the lawyers are demanding response by 29th December! Hardly any sort of
reasonable time period for you to be able to access independent legal
advice as to your options in this situation. The threatened legal writs
then ensue, you and your neighbour have to deal with potentially
severe-stress of undergoing legal process, imagined nightmares of having
to sell your homes to meet huge legal costs until such time you obtain
separate legal advice and support, showing your fears are largely
groundless. As our Speaker pointed out. - a classic example of SLAPP
tactics when a civil lawsuit is brought primarily for the purpose of
silencing community debate on a matter of public interest.
.Mark told us he had a background of 16 years working in the
non-government, non-profit, conservation sector: two years in the
Wilderness Society, four years with the Australian Conservation
Foundation, and the last 10 years in the Environmental Defenders Office
(or EDO), The latter Mark described as being an environmental legal
service provided by the community with only a small amount of Govt.
funding as part of the legal aid system. With his role as a public
interest community lawyer Mark provided a free service to members of the
community who wanted to use the law to protect the environment. For
example: -Conservation groups wanting to challenge inappropriate
development; individuals who might be the victims of industrial
pollution in their neighbourhood; groups or individuals who were
concerned on such issues as native vegetation or management of National
Environmental Defenders Office was being run on a "shoestring
budget" according to our. Speaker, and needed to do fund raising.
like other community groups, in order to operate effectively and to
mount a court cases for environmental campaigns deserving of support. ,A
further restriction in recent years is that the EDO is no longer allowed
to use any 1 part of legal aid funding to engage in litigation or any
court work. Mark said that had come about due to intense pressure from
conservative political elements who weren't too happy about the
effectiveness of legal campaigns conducted by EDO's in other States such
as the large protest against the Hinchinbrook Marina development in
Queensland. However they had also gotten considerable support from the
community at large, including establishment figures like judges,
presidents of law societies, QC's, who had "gone into bat" for
them and ensured some ongoing Govt. funding.
This was all very much an issue of freedom of speech and people's
democratic rights to engage in public interest issues without having to
fear legal harassment via unsavoury tactics like SLAPPS. Mark pointed
out the call for law reform in this area was not just coming from the
Greens or him, but also had the strong support of some of the most
prominent lawyers in Australia who issued a statement of major concern
in 2006. Part of that statement referred to "these lawsuits against
public participation (creating) enormous stress and financial burden for
the people and groups who are sued and (clogging) court systems with
arguments (belonging) in political rather than legal arenas."
Specific legislation to protect the community's right to public
debate and participation, has already been introduced in several
American States and Canada. Mark stated he would. be committed to doing
all that he could during his parliamentary term, to have his Bill passed
into law. He pointed out the alternative if society didn't act on this
issue, that we were in danger of just becoming "passive
citizens" sitting at home in front of our TV sets, not daring to
venture out and engage with issues of public importance, or to take part
in democratic protest activity because of the fear of litigation.
Mark gave interesting, and sometimes amusing, details about various
court cases, showing in some instances that the Law really could be an
ass at times. In response to several audience questions he also went
into detail about what could actually constitute defamation as against
just being legitimate criticism of companies or individuals. And he made
quite effective use of slides to illustrate various points. One of those
featured a very snappy website of a fellow environmental campaigner Dr
Greg Ogle who headed a not for profit legal service styled Bush Lawyers
Ink - for an amusing, partly cynical look at the issues (easily
accessible via a Google search on the Internet.)
Mark's talk to us was a great presentation, enlivened by his genial
and quite affable manner combined with his considerable knowledge and
clear grasp of all the issues. He also has a website -
www.markparnell.org.au - and a colourful Newsletter - "Greens in
State Parliament" that are worth taking a look at.
JUNE 8th 2007
"Why I am a Humanist"
President Dorothy Bell opened the meeting, gave definitions of
Humanism from Ray Dahlitzís book making it clear that Rationalists,
Secularists, Atheists and many more were all included.
Dick Clifford was the first speaker, saying that this was the
potted story of his life which started on the 25 12 24. He had the
benefit of having good parents, described as that rare commodity an
English lady and gentleman. So of course he went to Sunday School, then
became an alter boy. Then there was a shortage in the choir and he was
literally press ganged into the choir.
Meanwhile at school he was learning about science, the elements, the
gas laws etc. and found that the more you knew about science the less
you believed in things that go bump in the night. Then with his Grandma
he went to the local library where he read books on Astronomy, evolution
and much more. He also went to Hornimanís Museum where there was a
great display of the skeletons of mammals, arranged in order from man
down to the very smallest, but looking at adjacent skeletons it was very
hard to see any difference showing that we are indeed one family who
have evolved. Sadly, at a later time a local church demonstrated against
this exhibit on the grounds that it supported evolution. The Museum,
concerned about the possibility of damage to the museum and the exhibits
agreed to withdraw the display.
Dickís parents had become concerned about his views and brought in
the local Sacristan. While Dick agreed with the teachings of Jesus
(sermon on the mount etc) he could not accept the mumbo jumbo that went
with it. Then the Sacristan made the mistake of teaching the doctrine of
original sin, which so horrified Dick that he became an agnostic. But he
continued to be interested in social reform and the works of George
Bernard Shaw and the Fabians.
The War came and he was called into the Navy where he became a radio
mechanic but fell ill with TB and spent a year in hospital. After the
war he joined the local Fabian Society a body very much like our society
and in '52 the whole family emigrated and he joined the ALP. Contesting
the State seat of Glenelg where he did not impress. He got married in
He kept up his interest in Science recalling the earth research in
the 60s which proved that continental drift did take place, using many
different sciences, it was a good vindication of scientific method.
Joining the Humanist Society some 10 years after it started he came
to the realization that he was really a Humanist.
Dorothy Bell was the 2nd speaker, she was not brought
up in a religious household. Her father was brought up in the Anglican
Cottage Homes which had a warm and happy family type life. He was taught
to repair shoes. He was still repairing his familyís shoes at the age
of 72 when he came to Australia but he did not go to church.
Dorothy when aged 8 joined the Sunday school and at 11 she became
saved and signed the pledge - every year - to abjure drink. You did not
dance, that would be encouraging impure thoughts. She joined the choir
and the scripture union. She enjoyed the choir and never regretted such
At the age of 22 she became baptized - full immersion - but then
started to realise that many did not do what they said, but were doing
dishonest things in everyday life.
She became involved in Archery, entered a Tournament which was on the
same day as the Sunday School anniversary. She went to the Archery. She
saw Billy Graham in Manchester but was not impressed.
Married at 24, she came to Australia with husband and 3 children,
went to a Humanist Society meeting chaired by Peter Woolcock who said we
want to encourage people to join and run social functions, start a
social group. She discussed this with her neighbour Cathie Brandt, who
said "we can do that" so they did!
Dorothy concluded by saying that she is a practical Humanist because
people have rights. We need to fight against land mines and cluster
Questions followed, concluding with Janice querying why most
humanists came from a protestant or Jewish background, replies were
indefinate, but the next speaker -
Michael Cunnington was born on 1 6 1937, declared he had an Irish
Catholic upbringing, and he resented his Christian education because it
was an indoctrination. He was taught to fear hell fire and Gods Wroth
which filled him with fear, There was much violence, teachers beat the
children severely. Sister Basil sent him home bruised from ankle to
neck. Mother asked what happened to him. "Sister Basil beat
me."-"Well you must have deserved it." Todayís parents
would raise protests with the school authorities.
He asked questions about Catholic consecration - the wafer and the
wine actually becomes the body and blood of the Christ, hard to accept -
and the difference between mortal and venal sin. With mortal sin you
would go straight to hell, with venal sin your punishment would not last
for ever. He was told "Cunnington, you think too much, all the
thinking has been done for you, all you have to do is to believe."
He recalled hiding in the kitchen with his mother while the priest
banged on the door for a donation they did not have.
Priests and teachers were able to get away with violent behaviour
because people believed that what they said was true but Michael had
read philosophers including Bertrand Russell. His resentment of religion
was due to him not being allowed to grow, he was being conditioned.
Humanism should get more militant, Humanism requires not toleration but
a rejection of religion. Our adversaries donít have an open mind.
For many years he was an agnostic thanks to Bertrand Russell, because
he could not prove there was no fairies at the bottom of his Garden, but
now he says "thank you Richard Dawkins for your book"
"The God Delusion" I can now call myself an Atheist.
In the Philippines you cant cross the road without seeing someone
dragging the Virgin Mary up and down the street. Religious icons are
everywhere but the people are in extreme poverty and are still waiting
for Jesus, food and sustenance. His Grandmother became blind and deaf
and then became afflicted with ulcers in the mouth. To the very end she
still had her Rosary Beads. Humanism requires courage, most educated
people are Atheists. Michael believes in reason and science and
recommended Richard Dawkins book.
20 7 2007