Table of contents
- The Long Trial Begins
- Jabba The Hallam – Council Mayors Silencing Dissent
- Council Mayors Silencing Dissent – Closing Speech
- Hallam is no ‘victim’
- Council Mayors Silencing Dissent – Conclusion
The Long Trial Begins
The civil case of Hallam v O’Connor and Pyne was all about Council Mayors silencing dissent. The Mayors of Queensland, through their association, the LGAQ, worked to bankrupt critics and silence dissent.
I was in good company, because at the same time the LGAQ were calling for the resignation of the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) Chair, Alan MacSporran. It seemed the influence of Qld Mayors knew no bounds. They were even prepared to make a pre-emptive strike on the CCC.
My landmark defamation trial commenced on Monday, 26 August 2021. The weeks leading up to the trial were quite stressful. I could no longer push the matter to the back of my mind. I had to prepare for court.
When together with my support worker I entered the Cairns Court House, we were greeted by the bailiff, who announced our Judge, Dean Morzone. “All Rise” he commanded.
Morzone himself was a relatively young judge, looking to be in his late 40s. Distinguished and attractive, he could have been best described as resembling a young Robert De Niro.
I was not impressed when Hallam’s Solicitor (Mark Williams) and Barrister (Mr Amerena) entered the court room with volumes and volumes of documents and binders. It just seemed like such a case of overkill. The LGAQ was funding a multimillion-dollar case against me. This was a case, if ever there was one, of using a sledgehammer to crack a peanut.
Judge Morzone did not seem impressed either. His first actions were to forcefully reprimand Amerena for his conduct at the start of the day. Apparently, he had spoken in a rude manner to the young bailiff. Indeed, Morzone was that upset at Hallam’s barrister, he took the unusual step shortly after commencement of standing to excuse himself until he calmed down.
This was much to my amusement and while remaining composed, inside I was punching the air. I wanted nothing more than to say to Williams and Amerena, ‘Yeah buddy, who do you think you are coming up to Far North Queensland to push around the locals. If you don’t start behaving, we will kick your butt.’ Of course, I didn’t.
Surprisingly to me the trial continued for three weeks straight. I was amazed to find myself enjoying the process. It was interesting to experience how being in a court room is similar to, and in some ways very different from, what one sees on television.
I had three female support workers helping me at various times during the week. They ranged in age from 38 to 52. They found themselves interested and enjoying the process as well. Not the least of their enjoyment came from the appearance and charismatic demeanour of Judge Morzone.
I was amused to hear of their admiration for the judge. I am not sure if it was the formality of the court environment or the fact they fancied him, but they all took a greater interest in their presentation during the trial. It seemed to me they had a fondness for Judge Morzone, whose authority was matched by compassion and tolerance.
In Queensland, Council Mayors are represented by the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ).
This was a SLAPP by Council Mayors Silencing Dissent
The case had all the hallmarks of a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP). SLAPP’s have become an all-too-common tool for intimidating and silencing critics using expensive legal proceedings.
Mayor Jamieson was the President of the LGAQ. He and the Board were planning for the LGAQ to take action against the interconnected websites attacking councils and elected Mayors. This action, funded by the LGAQ, is really an action by the LGAQ using the plaintiff as the front man for this suit.
The LGAQ board and many mayors developed extreme malice towards me as a result of me tabling papers in the Qld parliament. This defamation action was payback against a whistle-blower, nothing more and nothing less.
This legal action against me was 100 per cent approved and funded by the LGAQ. They did this because the suit served their interests to silence critics. It was so disappointing to see freedom of speech under attack by such a powerful body.
Greg Hallam pursued the line that the litigation was all about personal attacks on him and damage done to him personally. However, it was clear to me he was simply the name behind the defamation claim. The action was taken to support Queensland Mayors and to reduce criticism and silence whistle-blowers. Council Mayors were silencing dissent with this LGAQ funded claim.
Council Mayors Silencing Dissent – Hallam the Front Man
Mayors and the LGAQ had been severely stung by insider revelations of local government corruption. However, under section 9 of the Defamation Act (Qld) 2005, as a corporation the LGAQ could not take action. Hallam acknowledged this. It was revealed in Court he said to his doctor, “I put my hand up to say Pyne is a grub”. He would have had the support of every Conservative Council in Queensland
My hatred for Hallam dissipated during the trial. After all it was not him driving the litigation. As evidence showed, Greg Hallam was simply doing the bidding of the LGAQ. The trial also heard of his mental health issues as well as his poor state of his general health and many other embarrassing revelations about his life. I almost felt sorry for him, but not quite. Not after what he put myself and my family through.
Trials and Tribulation
Nobody emerges from a defamation action without scars. Particularly not a high-profile one lasting five years. However, defendants are not willing participants, yet they endure all the hardships associated with a lengthy civil action.
Lyn O’Connor felt the brunt of great pressure as a result of this action. It was an enormous cost to her, both financially and physically. By the time of the trial, I could see she was exhausted. It was not long into the trial that Lynn had to leave the room and collapsed in the bathroom shaking, vomiting, heart racing, almost unable to speak or hardly able to walk. Paramedics had to be called to take her away.
My political activity and life prior to 2018 left me hardened and protected me from what Lyn was exposed to. Politically, if not financially.
I did put out a call for support. Thankfully a young law student by the name of Shane Cuthbert came to my aid. Shane was not able to provide legal advice as such, but as a law student, I appreciated having him there, simply in terms of process and any knowledge he had that he could pass on (knowledge I would have once had, that had since faded into obscurity).
Defamation Action Backfires
There are many reasons why individuals should not bring defamation claims. The first is that they cost a lot of money. Fortunately for Hallam, the LGAQ was paying for his action. Another reason for not bringing an action, is that you open yourself up to all sorts of personal crap. During the trial it emerged Hallam had:
- Lied to Dr. Greaves about his alcohol consumption.
- Boasted about bankrupting several individuals who had criticised the LGAQ.
- Employed a troll to create a fake social media profile in order to infiltrate Facebook groups and personal accounts, including Lyn O’Conner.
There were other revelations about his character and behaviour. However, for me it was the “kiss up and kick-down” nature of Hallam’s behaviour I could never forgive. In response to the many people who had posted negative things about powerful identities in local government, he chose to sue a quadriplegic on the Disability Support Pension (DSP) and a farmer’s wife.
Lyn O’Conner and an orchestrated campaign
Lyn O’Conner and Jason Ward first contacted me in 2015 following the suicide of a number of council employees in the Atherton Tablelands region. When I heard of Council Officers being bullied by elected Councillors and senior staff, and was told of numerous suicides and suicide interventions, I was very concerned. I raised these concerns with the Australian Services Union (ASU) and in the Queensland Parliament.
Hallam claimed O’Conner and I were conducting an ‘orchestrated campaign’ targeting him personally. This claim was preposterous. Indeed when I met O’Conner and Ward they never mentioned Hallam. The truth is, they did not even know he existed!
The evidence showed the only place that such a conspiratorial campaign existed was in the mind of the plaintiff. Beside the fact we often met when I was an MP and were Facebook friends, there was no evidence I worked with Ms O’Connor in a campaign against the plaintiff. It was simply untrue.
Greg Hallam and the LGAQ also claimed that I tabled documents for O’Conner, in return for her help with my re-election campaign. In response, I told the court:
- I have little in common with the political views of Ms. O’Connor.
- When an election was called at the end of 2017 Ms O’Connor did nothing to assist me in that election campaign.
- Ms O’Connor did not hand out how to vote cards for me.
- Ms O’Connor did not donate any money or anything in-kind to my campaign.
- To the best of my memory, I did not even get so much as a “Hello – I wish you well” phone call from Ms O’Connor.
I respected the work Lyn O’Conner had done, but there was certainly no quid-pro-quo. Indeed, after leaving parliament I had not met Ms O’Connor again, but for very briefly to discuss this defamation trial.
Jabba The Hallam – Council Mayors Silencing Dissent
I was being sued for a number of facebook posts. Most of these posts did not relate to Mr. Hallam in any way and nobody would think they had anything to do with him.
However, the main post Hallam sued on was going to be a matter of “legal interpretation“. It concerned a caricature Hallam claimed was “depicting a creature whose body bears a striking resemblance to the well known popular culture figure fictional character from the Star Wars movie franchise, Jabba the Hutt, but whose Jabba the Hutt style head bears a passable likeness to Mr Hallam’s appearance”.
Imputations and Widespread Publication
I argued the imputations in the claim would not be drawn from the cartoon. The ordinary reader would understand the cartoon was merely satire, they would certainly NOT think there was an imputation Mr. Hallam was a powerful crime boss.
I think that proposition is ridiculous. Mr Hallam’s doctor expressed as much in her medical notes when she wrote, “The claims are fanciful but Greg is checking each day and his time is absorbed with solicitors and barristers involved in the criminal defamation suit which will take 12 months to come to court.`”
I don’t know how many people saw the original Jabba-the-Hutt post. However, the publication was only picked up by the mainstream media when the plaintiff initiated a suit.
High Views of Himself
Mr. Hallam’s own admission and understanding of his position in the public realm was clear. In a letter of 16 December 2015 to McGrath Estate Agents, Mr Hallam was keen to associate himself with “…Queensland’s wealthiest families and most eminent people”.
Mr. Hallam gave evidence in chief that at one point in time, he was regarded by the mainstream media as being one of the most influential people in Queensland with some 4-5000 mentions per year.
Mr Hallam confirmed he issued numerous press releases as CEO of the LGAQ and often appeared on radio and television. In his position as LGAQ CEO Mr Hallam acknowledged having a public role. As a public figure and CEO he was regularly involved in debating ‘matters of public interest’.
In light of his high public role and position Mr. Hallam had previously been subject of satirical publication. If as the plaintiff contends, he is identifiable, then by virtue of his prominent public role, the only interpretation open to the ordinary reasonable viewer, is that the image was satirical in nature.
Satire is fundamental to freedom of speech in a democracy, by making society “examine itself critically and confront its deficiencies”.
The state of the common law in Australia is unclear, especially for those publishing satire on issues of public concern or current affairs which may be indirectly political. The most useful defences to using satire are fair comment and the extended qualified privilege regarding political communication.
Council Mayors Silencing Dissent – Closing Speech
My closing speech to Judge Morzone was simply a response to evidence that had been used against me during the trial. This consisted of various memes and pictures, usually accompanied by text. The material centred on a number of themes. In response I addressed the court as follows:
Freedom of Speech
I think public figures have blogs and as I said in the video that was shown to the court, I think there is an enormous public interest in these issues. I’m not sure what the relevance is in material that’s been presented by the other side. I only respond to stuff they’ve tabled. There was an article in one bundle, by Hugo Black, who was a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in the United States and a quote of his saying:
Freedom of speech means you shall not do something to people either for the views they have or the views they express or the words they speak and write.
I do not apologise for this, because it is true and correct.
Victims of Council Mayors Silencing Dissent
My anger is not really at my own treatment. It comes from injustice to others. I will not call Lyn O’Connor as a witness, having seen the damage the Local Government Association of Queensland has done to her. Your enemy may wear nice suits and be the definition of success to some; but make no mistake, they destroy people who stand in their way.
I stand by those comments, you know, gee, I’ve seen people like Mr Jamieson, man, they’ve got so much money and so much success and no-one stands in their way. The LGAQ is just so powerful, and to see what’s happened to Lyn since the course of this litigation, I just-it breaks my heart.
I think of all the comments – and we’ve all seen them presented in court. Comments by me and Lyn weren’t the most offensive by a long stretch of what was being said about Mr Hallam and the LGAQ. However, the fact that they’ve come after a quadriplegic councillor and Lyn (a farmer’s wife whose marriage has been busted up over this whole thing).
They call me a coward for saying things in parliament; I will tell you in parliament, I will tell you in the street, I will say it in jail if I have to go there; but, I tell you what, the fact that Hallam goes after people like Lyn and me shows he’s the coward, not me!
And the next bundle of documents I respond to is bundle B. And that’s again to update folks on litigation, Lyn and lies; people were concerned about Lyn’s health. I haven’t watched that video so I don’t recall what it was about, but I certainly updated people about Lyn and again, public interest; I’m in my neighbourhood, there, where people haven’t seen me, because I’ve been spending so much time on this case. And that’s document 81, the first one of bundle B.
The second post is page 89, which is a very old photo. It’s a photo of me with Ned Kelly in the wax museum. And I say:
I broke my neck at 23. Since then my life has been lived like I’ve got nothing to lose. There’s not much anyone can take from me that hasn’t already been taken. So when people threaten or drag me through the courts, it’s like, “You think that worries me? Seriously.” If I know what’s right, why would I take a backward step?
And that’s not in my interests to say that for this legal matter, but it’s in court and I’m just not sure how relevant it is. So that’s been my situation in life anyhow.
I’ll move onto the next document, which is document 91 that was tabled today. I am an avid gardener. I once read that gardening was a revolutionary act because you’re buying out of the capitalist system and growing your own food; what could be more revolutionary than that? But the post says:
“Fight the power. Grow cucumbers” – like, if I can’t say that, man, this country’s gone to a bad place.
“Fight the power. Grow cucumbers” – That’s number 91 that’s been tabled for some reason. Anyhow. Ninety-seven, is just:
The other thing I say in this bundle of documents is, “I’m being dragged through the court for exposing a few grubby mayors” – And in that, I’m just emphasising that I never, ever said that all mayors are corrupt. I said that there are some.
They kill people don’t they?
And what do you think happens to whistle blowers with billions of dollars of corporations’ money at stake? Seriously, do you think they don’t kill people for that amount of money? I have no doubt they put people six feet under.
In India according to the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative since 2005 there have been 315 attacks on whistle blowers who have used Right to Information laws to expose scams. Estimates suggest that more than 65 were killed. This is, again, the Godfather article, 127. And I just, like, try and I’ve always thought if you could put enough sunshine on stuff, just call it straight and get enough people to look at it, things will come up better, you know? But this article tries to show how ridiculous it was for Mr Hallam to suggest that we were suggesting that he was some sort of Godfather figure.
I’ve never thought Greg was corrupt. And the way they’ve tried to draw that-like, what everyone would say about Jabba the Hutt being overweight or unattractive and being-meaning Greg Hallam’s a criminal, I just tried to expose that as being a real big stretch, and that’s what I was trying to do in that blog article.
The court has seen the video that Mr Castley-Wright did, number 147. I will just say that I met Noel outside council. He asked me a series of questions, I answered them and that video …… yes, I honestly did share that video, and it represents my views. It represents my views accurately. Yeah. I just think I am a public figure and I should be able to say – I should be able to say this. Like, I don’t swear at people or anything. Anyhow, that’s exhibit 147.
This Chapter on Trial
Exhibit 153 is a chapter from my book, if I can show that one. So that shows under “Council Mayors Silencing Dissent”, Mayor Jamieson, the Redlands mayor, and Mayor Schrinner, the Mayor of Brisbane. And what I’m really trying to bring out is the power of these people acting collectively. Originally, we had so many small, local government authorities in Queensland, and they needed, somehow, to have their voice heard.
However, now we’ve got a small number of strong, powerful individual councils, who with less people – act in unison using the political might of the LGAQ, and this case has silenced me. And that’s it. I don’t know if there’s any point in going through the others. Mr Amerena’s talked of them. There there is one at the courthouse: item 169. I am happy to – it’s a picture of the courthouse, and it’s headed:
I am in the home straight now. To those who have supported me, all my friends and family, a massive thank you. Because I have had many people, like, contact me, saying “How are you? Are you okay?” and that’s so, I think I should be entitled to get back to them. And again, I am a public figure and hold public office, and it’s a matter of public interest.
This one is unnumbered, but if we could hold it for Mr Williams. It is the document they tabled of a Facebook post captured-oh, is that the date? What is that? It’s a reference number, 20220228. Well, it is a screenshot from my Facebook page, and again, I think I have read this out before. It’s the one about Lyn in front of the Cairns Post, and I just want to say that the court needs to understand my state of mind after what I’ve been through as well. And, you know, I’m trying to yeah, Mr Hallam reckons he can be angry. Well, I reckon this trial’s been a nightmare, man – and I reckon I’ve got a right to be frustrated.
Only Ever Kicking Up
And with the News Corp article that was tabled right at the very end of Mr Amerena’s presentation – look, News Corp’s employed many good journalists – and many of them write good articles. But they get up to the sub-editor and the editor and that’s where things turn around, and like everything in this case, it’s always about power.
And I want to conclude by saying everything I’ve done in life, I’ve done – like, whether it’s trying to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with disabilities, or whatever – that’s the constituency I care about. The only people that I’ve ever had blues with have been premiers, CEOs, and people who use their powers in ways that I think don’t help the most vulnerable members of our community.
And I just say again that, you know, I haven’t wanted to talk about “Woe-is-me.” I could have talked about my life in this, how hard things are on me, whatever. But I know, like – I see Aboriginal and Torres Strait people are here. They’ve got a harder life than me. And I tell you what, 99 per cent of people had a harder life than Mr Hallam, that’s for sure!
Hallam is no ‘victim’
I don’t want to get on my soapbox any more, but I don’t apologise for anything I’ve done, and he (Hallam) is still commenting anyway. You know, I’m getting in trouble for commenting. He’s posting things such as this on Facebook now:
And I’d like to table that document about Mr Hallam’s post, and the way he is now. Make no mistake, there’s only one winner here, and that’s him! He’s retired, living the life of Riley. And where’s Ms O’Connor? I think she’s homeless, you know. And I hope there’s some justice in the outcome anyway. That’s all I have to say here, your Honour. Thank you for your time.
Council Mayors Silencing Dissent – Conclusion
At the end of the trial, I thought it would simply be a matter of the judge handing down his verdict. However, I should have realised that following mountains of evidence and the need for His Honour to refer to previous legislation and old caselaw writing a judgement on this case, would be a monumental effort by Judge Morzone.
I had to do the best I could to get back to my life while waiting for a judgement to be written and handed down.
The LGAQ’s power and support in Parliament meant there was no one beyond their reach. Even the CCC Chair Alan MacSporran was targeted.
Following intense lobbying by the LGAQ to sack him, Alan MacSporran resigned early in 2022. Clearly the LGAQ had more power than the CCC and they were absolutely ruthless in using that power to silence critics.
While I would have to wait some time for my judgement, I suspected that like MacSporran, my days were numbered.
- Far North Queensland
- Growing up in Australia
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People
- Queensland Political Culture
- Princess Alexandra Hospital Spinal Unit
- People with Disabilities
- Cairns Regional Council
- Conservative Council
- ALP Qld
- Abortion Law Reform
- Fighting Fossil Fuel
- Local Government Corruption
- Losing to Labor
- My Cairns Council Return
- Council Mayors Silencing Dissent
- Socialist Alliance and Fighting Fascism
- Jenny Pyne, Life and Pain
- Cairns Council Swings Right
- Farewell Comrades
 Communications Law Bulletin, Vol 24 N° 4 2006.
 Justice Tony Fitzgerald “Telling the truth, laughing” 92 (1999) Media International Australia incorporating -Culture and Policy, 11, 14.
 20210901/D12/CNS/DC/4/Morzone DCJ, XXN, 12-78.