The Tasmanian Supreme Court has slapped down beleaguered Wilderness Society executive director Alec Marr’s bid to retain control over the organisation, ruling this morning that a secret AGM attended by just 14 people last year was invalid.

In a short hearing, in which Marr’s umbrella organisation TWS Inc declined to offer a substantial defence, judge Peter Evans also ruled a special resolution passed at the meeting to increase the threshold for constitutional change to 4,500 names was invalid.

Queensland Wilderness Society Campaign Manager Tim Seelig, part of a dissident group challenging Marr for control of the divided organisation, immediately called on Marr and his national committee of management to fall on their swords.

“Alec’s authority and the management committee is now trashed,” he told Crikey outside court. “They should stand down immediately. The state campaign centres are now calling on the committee to immediately stand down so members can properly rule on their future.”

The court was asked to rule on the sparsely-attended AGM in November last year that changed the constitution and ensured the Marr-dominated management committee would serve for another three years. In a move reminiscent of the darkest manoeuvrings of student politics, the AGM was advertised in the mostly-unread Fairfax publication the Burnie Advocate.

Dissidents last night circulated a letter to members and a media release from six campaign centre managers urging members to converge on Canberra for a special meeting on May 2, organised by Marr. The state-based groupings say they have the backing of 95% of the organisation’s 45,000-strong membership.

“We have completely lost trust and confidence in the Executive Director and the national management committee … It’s time for change,” they wrote, highlighting “bullying and poor staff management, wasteful consultancies” and a lack of campaign “direction and accountability”. Marr had originally called the meeting to shore up his authority by allowing a postal vote on its future.

Meanwhile, Crikey can reveal Marr shut down his own email system yesterday to prevent dissidents from contacting members. At 4:40pm, as forces committed to Marr’s overthrow prepared to send out a missive spruiking their intention to roll the veteran campaigner, access to the group’s ‘PHP’ mailing list was shut down.

Marr confirmed this morning that he had ordered the email list be taken off-line, saying the proposed mailout calling on him to resign was “illegal”, an “invasion of people’s privacy” and was designed to spread “misinformation among the members”. Newcastle campaigner Vanessa Culliford, who drafted the letter to members, had “absolutely no legal rights at all” to access the email list.

“We’re a separately incorporated body, and it’s an abuse of the email system,” he said.

But Culliford denied the claims: “the PHP lists are created through the work that state-based campaign centres do. I am simply informing our membership of the views of the state campaign centres … in terms of being abused by Alec Marr, I’ve been working for TWS for a long time so I’m used to it.”

Dissidents say the May 2 meeting to enable members to submit postal votes will now become a referendum on his membership style.

Before this morning Supreme Court ruling, Marr said his proposed changes to the Wilderness Society’s structure would benefit members: “We’ve already agreed to a new AGM. Our biggest problem was the previous AGM didn’t allow enough people to be involved.

“The organisation has overhauled its constitution — we’ve currently got the constitution of a tennis club for an organisation with 45,000 people. It’s completely inappropriate and allows small groups of people to effectively take over without a mandate.”

Acrimony continues to fester in Wilderness Society offices across Australia. One incident, confirmed by three parties, involved a spat over microwaved spaghetti bolognese at lunch time, with the re-heater accused of being a “meat eater” by ecologically-tinged staff.

Marr personally investigated the claims and unleashed a tirade against the complainants, who appeared to be a proxy for the organisation’s split between grassroots eco-warriors and be-suited management focused on business plans.

After the spaghetti eating finance staffer left the organisation, Marr is reported to have unleashed the following tirade: “You don’t have to be a fucking greenie to work at TWS. I’ve got a great big four-wheel drive. But at least I haven’t had a fucking BABY!”

Marr said the comments were “meant to be a joke”.

Peter Fray

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