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Defending Dissent

Brian Martin

My first brush with defamation law was in 1980. The biggest environmental issue at the time was nuclear power. I was a member of Friends of the Earth and involved in writing leaflets, organizing rallies, and giving speeches. At the time I worked as a research assistant in applied mathematics at the Australian National University in Canberra. The two most prestigious advocates of nuclear power in Australia at the time were Ernest Tit- terton, professor of nuclear physics at the Australian National University—just across campus from me—and Philip Baxter, former head of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. They were active in giving speeches and writing articles and had sway with government.

To show the inconsistencies and absurdities in their positions, I decided to write an analysis of their viewpoints about nuclear power, nuclear weapons, and the nuclear debate. The result was an 80-page booklet that I titled Nuclear Knights.1 Titterton and Baxter had been knighted for their contributions to Australian society—a knighthood is the highest government honor—and were known as Sir Ernest Titterton and Sir Philip Baxter, or Sir Ernest and Sir Philip for short. I thought the whole idea of knighthoods was absurd and was happy to make fun of them through the title.

I found a publisher: Rupert Public Interest Movement. A small lobby and activist group based in Canberra, Rupert was pushing for freedom of information laws; I knew two key members, Kate Pitt and John Wood. They were happy to lend Rupert’s name to a challenge to the establishment. John drew some wonderful graphics, including the cover showing Sir Ernest and Sir Philip as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza tilting at windmills.

There was one final barrier to overcome: defamation.

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