Remove James Morrison from ABC Jazz’s “Jazz 100”

Remove James Morrison from ABC Jazz’s “Jazz 100”

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Eamon McNelis started this petition to ABC Jazz

Earlier this year James Morrison provided a character reference to The South Australian District Court for Matthew Allen Harkins, who sexually assaulted a woman when they were both students of The James Morrison Academy (JMA).

Recently, ABC Jazz placed Mr Morrison on a ballot that resulted in him being voted ninth in the recent 'Jazz 100' list. This ranking implies he is the most popular, living Australian Jazz musician. We, the undersigned, think it is inappropriate that James Morrison should be celebrated in this way, given his public support for a man who sexually assaulted a woman, a student, to whom James Morrison should owe a duty of care.

We condemn ABC Jazz for including Mr Morrison on the ballot and we urge the ABC to remove him immediately from the Jazz 100. Furthermore, we demand that all of Morrison's recordings and media be removed from ABC Jazz's website and social media accounts.

Prosecutors dropped the initial charges of two counts of rape against Matthew Harkins, after he agreed to plead guilty to one count of indecent assault. This plea deal meant that Harkins' sentence would not include any jail time. However the victim-survivor did have a reasonable expectation that a conviction recorded against Harkins would have prevented him from re-entering Australia (Mr. Harkins is a US national), and would have made it difficult for him to secure registration as a teacher in the US.

These two small concessions of justice would have assured the victim-survivor that she was safe from the potential ordeal of further contact with her assailant, and that, not being able to teach, her assailant would be less likely to find himself in a position of power over young women in the future.

Despite Harkins' guilty plea, Judge Soulio chose not to record a conviction, citing, among other considerations, a character reference provided by James Morrison.

Judge Soulio stated that James Morrison had provided Mr. Harkins with a letter of support “based on his knowledge of your character”. In this letter, James Morrison described Matt (a man who assaulted  an unconscious colleague) as “respectful to those whom he performed with” and asked the court to consider that Matt was “professional in the way he approached his craft.”

This fails to account for the likelihood that Mr Harkins conducted himself differently whilst under the supervision of his head of school, than he did around young women in private scenarios. Mr Harkins' musical professionalism does not excuse behaviour that endangers women. It is our opinion that Mr Morrison's decision to ignore this shows a blatant disregard for the safety of the victim-survivor, to whom he owed a duty of care.

It is by no means certain that the outcome would have been different without James Morrison’s involvement, nor do we suggest that James Morrison bears sole responsibility for the bitter injustice of Matthew Harkins avoiding a recorded conviction. The courts, police, prosecutors, and South Australia’s Criminal Law Consolidation Act all bear their part of the blame, as do our societies broader attitudes towards crime against women.

However, while there is no suggestion herein that James Morrison did anything illegal, it must be made clear that James Morrison was not compelled by any legal requirement to write a character reference for Matt Harkins.

To pursue a conviction for sexual assault is a difficult and often harrowing process. The victim-survivor should have had every right to expect to be properly supported through the police interviews, invasive tests, prosecutors, defence lawyers, courts and harassment which she endured over the course of two years. The fact that James Morrison instead chose to take an action, which in our opinion, undermined this woman’s pursuit of justice, by providing a character reference for her assailant is deplorable.

In the context of a legal system in which less that 1 in 10 reported sexual assaults result in convictions (and only about 1 in 10 sexual assaults are reported in the first place), James Morrison chose to use the power of his standing in society to support a perpetrator of sexual assault.

The result has been that no conviction has been recorded, and that the victim-survivor is now less assured of her safety than she otherwise might have been.

Last year, James Morrison also allowed Matthew Harkins to tour Melbourne with The JMA Big Band. Matthew’s parole conditions forbade him to leave South Australia, but with the support of Morrison, he was able to successfully apply for an exemption to travel interstate. The victim-survivor (who lives in Melbourne) had not been told that the man who assaulted her would be performing with the band, and had planned to attend one of these concerts. It was only by chance that she avoided the ordeal of seeing her assailant in a place where she rightfully  expected to be safe. Mr Morrison was aware of the charges against Harkins the entire time.

In her victim impact statement, presented at court, the victim-survivor stated that “it is my hope that Mr Morrison has also been given the opportunity to reflect on how he may better ensure the safety of women at his academy. A dismissive approach to student wellbeing is one that is unsustainable in a modern university. Complaints of student misconduct at the JMA must be treated with the same seriousness by Mr Morrison as they are treated in this court.”

James Morrison has offered no formal public statement to justify his actions. He has neither publicly apologised, nor has he publicly indicated how he intends to better ensure the safety of women at his academy, or even that he intends to better ensure their safety at all.

Notwithstanding the warranted criticism of the gender balance of the artists represented on the shortlist, ABC Jazz’s Jazz 100 could have simply been a bit of stupid fun: a harmless popularity contest where listeners were asked to rank 100 musicians from a shortlist arbitrarily chosen by the producers. There were no cash rewards, the rankings were plainly absurd, and there were any number of worthy luminaries absent from the shortlist.

But the fact that the 'Jazz 100' list is inconsequential, makes it even more galling that James Morrison was included at all. There was absolutely no good reason why ABC jazz could not have simply left him off the shortlist.

For ABC Jazz to choose to celebrate James Morrison like this, when rightly, he should be condemned, is an insult to the victim-survivor, and to all victim-survivors of sexual misconduct within the Australian Arts scene.

ABC Jazz choosing to celebrate James Morrison sends the message that there is nothing wrong with powerful men using their power to support and protect the perpetrators of sexual assault, and that the victims and survivors of sexual assault should expect for their need for justice to be ignored.

It sends a message to the whole Australian jazz scene that the reputation and glory of men is more important than the safety of women.

We deserve MORE from our national broadcaster.

Again, we urge you to remove James Morrison from the “Jazz 100” list, remove his content from your website and social media and ask you to carefully consider whether you support his work in the future.

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