Fundraiser for MP Ian Cohen

WOULD you shell out cash to cover your political representative’s legal costs if they were sued for speaking out?

Supporters of Byron resident and Greens MP Ian Cohen believe people will and have organised a fundraising bash at Byron Bay High School tonight.

All proceeds will go to Mr Cohen’s $1 million legal debt incurred when the High Court ruled he defamed local developer Jerry Bennette.

The fundraiser will include a ‘lounge chair’ Q&A between Federal Greens leader Senator Bob Brown and Byron Shire mayor Jan Barham, covering a range of issues close to their hearts.

Sen Brown has already successfully staved off bankruptcy in a similar situation, thanks to his supporters helping with a $250,000 legal bill from a failed fight with Forestry Tasmania, a predicament that would have seen him lose his seat.

He was genuinely touched and deeply appreciative of the support and sees it as a grassroots form of democracy to counter so-called SLAPPs (strategic lawsuits against public participation) which free-speech advocates see as a new legal trend intended to censor, intimidate or silence critics.

Sen Brown is entirely sympathetic to Mr Cohen’s situation and sees no problem with public donations to pay for personal legal costs incurred in the course of duty.

“In my case I put in a substantial sum, but the bulk came from supporters,” he told The Northern Star.

“Ian’s in a predicament through the courts (and) this is an opportunity for people to say thanks.

“There’s no pressure and it’s entirely optional.

“It’s no wonder people don’t want to get into public life today.”

The fundraiser will be an opportunity for supporters to get up close and personal with three trailblazers of Green politics in Australia.

The trio are close and go back a long way.

“I first met Ian in 1982 at the Frank- lin blockade protests when 1500 were arrested. I think he cooked me my last meal before I was arrested,” Sen Brown said.

It was the Franklin blockade that inspired his love of photography.

“If I wasn’t a pollie I’d be a photographer. These days I use a modest Canon 450D. My partner Paul won’t let me go and get the $22,000 version,” he said.

“I’m showing a mix of recent pictures of the Tasmanian wilderness.

“And I’m hoping there will be no tricky questions from Jan. If there are I might just have to fire a few back.

“We’ll be talking about everything from why we are Greens, through to the biting issues of the day, including population, climate change and loss ofbiodiversity.”

Local band The Hottentot Party will perform, followed by an auction of art works by Rose McKinley and David Milledge.

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