by Mary W Maxwell, PhD, LLB
On March 11, 2016, Dee McLachlan published an article about the drawings allegedly made by Martin Bryant. These were probably seen by some viewers of the Channel 7 Sunday Night show (on March 6) as Martin’s confessing, in graphic form, to much of the official story of the Port Arthur massacre.
Indeed at one point Martin’s former lawyer John Avery says of a drawing: “He’s the figure in black, shooting, and the victims are those in red. It paints a pretty chilling version of events from which it’s impossible to escape the conclusion that he’s certainly admitting full responsibility for what happened.”
None of us had ever before heard that Bryant made drawings, and since I think the evidence shows he was not at the Broad Arrow Café that day, he couldn’t very well have produced any such telltale artwork. But leaving aside this new gig, how far can media go and get away with their tactics on the Sunday Night show?
How about your personal life — if someone makes a movie about it – can they show it? What if it contains insults? What if it contains innuendo? What if it contains blatant lies? There is some protection in the law — you may be able to file for an injunction to stop publication, or, after the fact, sue for damages.
Sue the Bastards?
Libel is a cause for action. A person can sue and win up to $250,000. The states of Australia have adopted a Uniform Defamation Law based on common law. The statute of limitations is one year.
You may receive payment for economic loss, for example if someone ruins the reputation of your business. It is also possible to claim for hurt feelings and humiliation. Still, most people wouldn’t dare take on such an opponent as “the MSM” and many lawyers would refuse to handle your case. If you are Martin Bryant you are just not able to sue as it takes all you’ve got just to get through the next 24 hours.
The Biggest Surprises in the TV Show: The Police Interview and the Comments by John Avery
In the Sunday Tonight show we see a July 1996 video of 28 year-old Martin Bryant being interviewed by police detectives. The TV producer interweaves the police-interview with recent comments from lawyer John Avery, psychiatrist Paul Mullen, and the show’s host Mike Willesee. In my opinion the interwoven bits have the effect of twisting what Martin says in the police interview.
The three speakers on the Sunday Night show went all outdoors in libeling Martin Bryant. I am sure they could be sued, and possibly charged with crime? Generally it is against the law to allege that So-and-So, who has not yet been tried, is guilty of a crime. That is because it will obstruct justice. Granted though, Bryant is already convicted.
Here are two examples of the Sunday Night banter that made Martin out to be a coldhearted murderer:
- “MIKE WILLESEE: You’ve written that when he … finally told you the truth about what he’d done, he was thrilled.
JOHN AVERY: Yeah. Um…I… asked him whether there was any… excitement. He evidenced to me that it was as thrilling as driving a car at high speed or a speedboat. So, there was …that aspect of thrill seeking that he appears to have achieved….”
- “MIKE WILLESEE: So, there’s a constant theme here of Bryant wanting notoriety.
JOHN AVERY: Notoriety and, uh…..ringmaster in the circus…
…MIKE WILLESEE: So the overall idea of prison didn’t deter him or frighten him at all? He just wanted to be with the big boys?
JOHN AVERY: I think he thought he’d be lauded by them.”
(I hope you are gasping over that one.)
Where Was Channel 7’s Attorney?
You know me, I think everything the mainstream media do is carefully planned to have an effect on us, such as to condition us or frighten us. I doubt if anything said on the March 6, 2016 show was a slip of the tongue.
As quoted above, John Avery went beyond what he has said in the past, as to Martin’s motives and attitude, this time conveying the idea that Martin was gung-ho the massacre. Avery even said, on the Channel 7 show,
“MIKE WILLESEE: Did he express any views about wanting to kill more people?
JOHN AVERY: Yeah, regrettably, he did…on a few occasions….” [Wow]
But now we come to the really startling admission by Avery that his own performance as a defense lawyer was not exactly kosher. He did not take the part of his client. He did not listen to protestations of innocence. For instance:
“MIKE WILLESEE: This was part of a bizarre game Bryant was playing with police, admitting to only small parts of the truth. At first, he also lied to his lawyer, John Avery, claiming he didn’t go to Port Arthur. [I believe he did not.]
JOHN AVERY: And I said, ‘Look, Martin, that’s just bullshit. That doesn’t sit with anything that we know.’” [Hmm. What did we know?]
Avery “Trying To Be Helpful?”
Avery says openly that he had other motives to get Martin’s cooperation. For one thing he, Avery, wanted to care for the victims:
“MIKE WILLESEE: I know that you weren’t pressuring him, but it was a big thing in what you were trying to do, was to get him to plead guilty to all charges.
JOHN AVERY: It seemed to me from…from day one that the evidence was so overwhelming and the outcome of a trial would have been so obvious that…I was trying to avoid a show trial, a circus, a…a pantomime — call it what you like.
…JOHN AVERY: Bryant got to a stage early on in my dealings with him that he was going to plead guilty to the murders. But we had a uniquely unusual situation…..where he wanted to plead not guilty to the ATTEMPTED murders.
MIKE WILLESEE: Why? … there’s no legal rationale for that.
JOHN AVERY: No, but the stupidity of it was, I think, that what he wanted was the people who… he’d so… grievously maimed, he wanted them to come to court and say it was him. He wanted to be the centre of attention.” [Imagine it!]
Thus Avery brings in the idea (which Ginny Stein also pushed in her ABC broadcast of Background Briefing in 1997) that Bryant craves attention. (I doubt there is any basis for this allegation.)
The psychiatrist then chimed in here, on Channel 7:
“PAUL MULLEN: He wanted to be seen as powerful and evil. Some of the early news coverage which portrayed him as demonic was exactly what he wanted — delighted him.”
(It is hard to see how Mullen would know that, as he only had one meeting with Bryant, on May 5, 1996.)
Based ostensibly on that vanity logic, Avery proceeded to acknowledge that he urged the prisoner to plead guilty to 35 murders (and thus life imprisonment) as not doing so could lead to being called names!
“MIKE WILLESEE: Bryant was very sensitive to suggestions he had a low IQ, and Avery realised he might be able to use this sensitivity to encourage him to plead guilty. It was the killer’s Achilles heel.
JOHN AVERY: I said, “Mate, you’re gonna be made to look stupid. ‘They’ll say ‘simple Martin’, ‘simple fellow’. “This is a nonsense running this type of trial, ‘where you just want people to stand and point to you’ and say, ‘Yes, this is the man who shot at us.’ You know, the next time I saw him, he’d changed his mind. He said, “I’ll plead guilty to everything.”
Possible Action against Avery
I wonder if Channel 7 has deliberately set up John Avery to take the blame for Bryant’s fate? As mentioned we can’t exactly say that in 2016 Avery perverts the course of justice by “making allegations,” as the man was already convicted.
It does appear that Avery is acting against the code of professional code for lawyers by spilling the beans of a client’s private conversation — but Avery has already been struck off the rolls. (In fact he did four years in prison for theft!)
What else can we say of the odd behavior of Avery? Well, good news, we can say that is it cause for the conviction to be overturned! Plainly Bryant did not admit to guilt. He did only what he was coerced to do, in agreeing to that plea. (And, don’t forget he was under guardianship at the time!)
I’ll pass over for now the common law crime (described by Sir Edward Coke in The Institutes of the Lawes of England in 1634 and later by Sir William Blackstone in Book 4 of the Commentaries on the Laws of England in 1769) as “conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by indicting an innocent man.”
Gee, back in those days you know where the law stood!
Note: the person who indicted Martin Bryant was not John Avery. It was Damian Bugg, QC.
— Mary W Maxwell is a researcher in Adelaide. Her latest book, co-authored with filmmaker Dee McLachlan, is Port Arthur: Enough Is Enough.