Sunday, May 6, 2012

Reasons to be Skeptical: LIFE MEMBER EXPELLED

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The latest bombshell to hit the Skeptics is the expulsion of life member Harry Edwards, long-time secretary and investigator of the NSW Skeptics and original chairman of the group's $1.2 million trust fund, the Australian Skeptics Science and Education Foundation, on allegations of 'corruption' and 'misappropriation' of funds. Edwards was served a writ in September 1999, outlining the charges and demanding restoration of almost $50,000.

When the matter came before the courts on December 3, it was permanently stayed as it had been lodged in the wrong court. Costs were awarded against the Skeptics and have been set by the Supreme Court at over $6000. Edwards had prepared a defense, which claimed, among other things, that any monies advanced to him were approved by all trustees, and if he is guilty of breaching the trust, so are the other trustees. He has never been officially charged with either corruption nor breaching the trust in any way. The NSW Fraud Squad has not been notified, nor has the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC). In correspondence to Edwards, Skeptics treasurer Richard Lead stated that 'Australian Skeptics Inc will seek the penalties prescribed under Part 1VA of the Crimes Act 1900. And don’t expect any mercy'.

Edwards claims the matter is just a personal vendetta undertaken by a disgruntled committee member after a personality clash. Embarrassingly, the group sought a legal opinion from John Garnsey QC, only to be told that in addition to Edwards, all trust members were culpable in a number of breaches. Edwards believes this could be the reason no further action has been taken.

It is believed Garnsey also found that the original Australian Skeptics Science and Education Foundation set up with Harry Edwards as chairperson was incorrectly constituted. In 1999 a new Australian Skeptics Science and Education Foundation was registered with the ASIC, with Richard Lead, Richard Gordon, Trevor Case and Alynda Brown listed as Directors, all current members of the NSW committee. Victorian Steve Roberts was dumped as the interstate representative. No other members are listed in documents submitted to ASIC in January this year (2000) so it is assumed that these are the only members. (Former chairman Harry Edwards' name is conspicuous by its absence.) According to the Foundation's constitution, the only way membership of the Australian Skeptics Science and Education Foundation lapses is "upon the member's death" (Clause 2.3.(a)). Readers may be amused by the name of the law firm which prepared this constitution - "Church and Grace".

As the story unfolded, the ‘national committee’ and its supporters dismissed Edwards as ‘a sad case of mental decline’, ‘a liar’, and more desperately, ‘a piece of shit which the English language is manifestly incapable of describing properly’, amongst panic-stricken comments. Clearly the executive was appearing a little unnerved, and concerned at obvious leaks from some of their own state committees, which, surprisingly, still continue.

When news leaked that this article was initially being prepared at the request of the editor of another free-thought group, the Australian Rationalists, calls came in from Skeptics Inc committee executives threatening to sue, even though most of the information has already appeared in various forums on the internet. Following initial threats of legal action came accusations of 'disloyalty to mates', and finally more name-calling, 'who would believe someone bitter and twisted?'

The Australian Rationalist magazine was described by Williams as 'a boring political polemic and is even less interesting to read than jam tin labels'.

After some concerned discussions within the Australian Rationalists committee, the article is still being considered for a future issue, according to editor Ian Robinson, obviously feeling pressured by colleagues.

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