A bitter legal feud is threatening to engulf the Australian right-to-die movement after its national peak body was accused of squandering the legacy of Labor legend and former mayor Clem Jones.
A bitter legal feud is threatening to engulf the Australian right-to-die movement after its national peak body was accused of squandering the legacy of Labor legend and former "Mr Brisbane" Clem Jones.
A strongly-worded legal letter despatched by beaks at Holding Redlich -- and obtained by Crikey
-- demands that prominent activist Philip Nitschke immediately remove the August edition of his 'e-Deliverance' newsletter from his Exit International website and publish a prominent apology on its front page. Nitschke had accused the umbrella organisation set-up to spend "Clem Jones' millions" of failing to properly honour his dying wish.
When Jones, the former Brisbane lord mayor, died in December 2007 he asked that $5 million be spent to assist groups helping suffering people to peacefully end their lives and for lobby groups to change Australian law. A national edifice, YourLastRight.com, was set up to respond to the request, encompassing state-based voluntary euthanasia groups. But it seems five years later all is not well.
"The pursuit of money should not divide and conquer the movement but it is. And that leads to another question, should the executives and administrators of the movement -- those funded by Clem Jones -- pull in annual salaries in the hundreds of thousands of dollars?" Nitschke wrote.
Nitschke was perturbed by the Clem Jones Trust's failure to fund the documentary 35 Letters
, which needs an extra $85,000 to bring to fruition. Earlier in the e-Deliverance newsletter, filmmaker Janine Hosking says she is "terribly disappointed and confused as to why a project such as this documentary was considered such an unsuitable recipient of Clem Jones' largesse".
Holding Redlich says Nitschke's claims are defamatory and reserves the right to take the issue to court if it is not swiftly resolved.
But Nitschke was unbowed this morning: "After five years you've bugger all and now they're spending more of the money paying lawyers to pursue ridiculous defamation."
A funding report sent to Clem Jones executor David Muir, obtained by Crikey
states that YourLastRight Chairman and CEO Neil Francis -- who did not respond to a request for comment -- asked for $132,000 this year. It is not known whether the request was approved. In its letter Holding Redlich says remuneration is "reasonable and comparable with other directors and executives in the not-for-profit sector."
Muir told Crikey
early this afternoon that he was satisfied with the arrangements with YourLastRight.com and maintains confidence in the organisation.
"Basically YourLastRight are saying these allegations are defamatory and from what I've seen of the correspondence I've been of the same view ... I understand Nitschke got disappointed about not getting money for certain causes. But he needs to check his facts."
Muir says money for YourLastRight.com is not provided by the estate because Jones' will -- which included funds for stem cell research and the Australian republican cause -- had failed to direct money to a charitable organisation. Instead, the money -- much less that the $5 million requested by Jones -- has been spent "frugally and strategically" by the related Clem Jones group of companies.
YLR is funded by other sources in addition to Jones' grants.
But some other stakeholders are dissatisfied. Last month, the president of the West Australian Voluntary Euthanasia Society, Murray Hindle, pulled his organisation out of YourLastRight, saying its nominee Bill O'Brien had "become disenchanted with the secretive nature and lack of progress" of the organisation.
Hindle accused YLR
of squandering Jones' legacy on a "litany of administrative expenses and little else": "We realise that whilst 'Rome was not built in a day', we did however have expectations that YLR would have had more to show for its efforts ...
"We feel that without a clear target result then these expenses will grow until the entire bequest is consumed." The group says CEO Neil Francis had failed to apologise for "incorrect and intemperate comments" directed at O'Brien.
"Accordingly we have respected Bill's desire to cease acting as a director of YLR and sadly we see little reason to continue our association with your organisation," he said.
Euthanasia remains illegal in all Australian states and territories, but a range of bills are currently on parlimentary notice papers around the country.