Discrimination Under the Cover of Corona | Alastair Lawrie

The third potential outbreak which concerns me is anti-LGBT vilification. That is, attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals – and the LGBT community more broadly – claiming that we are somehow responsible for promulgating the coronavirus, or deserving of infection because of our supposed ‘sinful lifestyles’.

This is not a hypothetical fear, either. At the start of April, Melbourne Jewish radio station J-AIR broadcast the following homophobic and transphobic comments from a Rabbi Kessin:

But there is also no anti-LGBT vilification coverage in Victoria[iii] (meaning the earlier comments on a Melbourne Jewish radio station were likely lawful), or in Western Australia, South Australia or the Northern Territory.

“Discrimination Under the Cover of Corona” by Alastair Lawrie; May 16 2020

Jewish community submissions to Inquiry into Anti-Vilification Protections

Aleph Melbourne, together with other Jewish Community organisations, have provided submissions to the Victorian Government Inquiry into Anti-Vilification Protections.

Details of the inquiry, along with links to the submissions, are presented here.


Terms of Reference

Received from the Legislative Assembly on 12 September 2019:

An inquiry into current anti-vilification laws, their possible expansion, and/or extension of protections beyond existing classes to the Legal and Social Issues Committee for consideration and report no later than 1 September 2020.

The Committee should consider: 

1) The effectiveness of the operation of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (the Act) in delivering upon its purposes;
2) The success or otherwise of enforcement of the Act, and the appropriateness of sanctions in delivering upon the Act’s purposes;
3) Interaction between the Act and other state and Commonwealth legislation;
4) Comparisons in the operation of the Victorian Act with legislation in other jurisdictions;
5) The role of state legislation in addressing online vilification.
6) The effectiveness of current approaches to law enforcement in addressing online offending.
7) Any evidence of increasing vilification and hate conduct in Victoria;
8) Possible extension of protections or expansion of protection to classes of people not currently protected under the existing Act;
9) Any work underway to engage with social media and technology companies to protect Victorians from vilification.

Terms of Reference – Inquiry into Anti-Vilification Protections


Submissions

The following submissions have been accepted by the Committee:

# 26. Jewish Community Council of Victoria
# 38. Online Hate Prevention Institute [supplementary submission]
# 55. Australian Jewish Association [supplementary submission]
# 57. Union for Progressive Judaism
# 58. Aleph Melbourne [supplementary submission]


Hearings and Transcripts

 Past Hearings:

Tuesday, 25 February 2020
Meeting room G.1, 55 St Andrews Place, East Melbourne

TimeWitnessTranscript
12:45pmJewish Community Council of Victoria
Jennifer Huppert, President
 Transcript

Wednesday, 27 May 2020
Meeting room G.6, 55 St Andrews Place, East Melbourne and via videoconference

TimeWitnessTranscript
1:30pmAustalian Jewish Association
Dr David Adler, President
Ted Lapkin, Executive Director
 Transcript

Wednesday, 24 June 2020
Meeting room G.6, 55 St Andrews Place, East Melbourne and via videoconference

TimeWitnessTranscript
11:20amUnion for Progressive JudaismN/A

Tuesday, 25 June 2020
Meeting room G.6, 55 St Andrews Place, East Melbourne and via videoconference

TimeWitnessTranscript
12:50pmExecutive Council of Australian JewryN/A

Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen lost his honorary position at Monash University for using his Monash email address to campaign against marriage equality

Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen lost his honorary position at Monash University for using his Monash email address to campaign against marriage equality

Cowen v Monash University (Review and Regulation) [2018] VCAT 694 (11 May 2018)

What is this proceeding about?

  1. In 2015, Dr Shimon Cowen, an alumni of Monash University (Monash) had held honorary positions with Monash for many years. Over the years he had undertaken specific tasks for payment. In 2015, he held an Adjunct Research Associate position with Monash’s Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation (the Centre).
  2. Dr Cowen was also the Director of the Institute for Judaism and Civilisation (the Institute). The Institute has no affiliation with Monash University.
  3. In early December 2015, Dr Cowen used his Monash email account to send to a group of municipal councillors a booklet which he described as, “a comprehensive briefing on [same-sex marriage] from the standpoint of the Judaeo-Christian tradition.”
  4. Two local councillors raised issues with Monash via email.
  5. One asked whether the Vice-Chancellor condoned the publication of what the councillor viewed as “blatant bigotry and homophobia” from a University email account (the Complaint). The Councillor copied the Complaint to Dr Cowen.
  6. The other councillor advised Monash that Dr Cowen was “still using his” Monash “email address to lobby municipal councillors”. I refer to this below as ‘the Notification’. Dr Cowen does not seek the name of the ‘notifier’.
  7. The University investigated the issue. The outcome for Dr Cowen was most serious. Monash’s Dean of the Faculty of Arts (the Dean) declined to continue his ongoing honorary appointment, in the context that at the time Monash was in the process of appointing him to an Associate position.
  8. The Dean’s email advising Dr Cowen of the outcome said this action was taken because Monash had received “several complaints” concerning his use of his Monash email address to lobby members of the community concerning same-sex marriage in relation to his activities associated with his Institute, with the implication that the Institute is associated with Monash.
  9. Dr Cowen appealed that decision to Monash’s Vice-Chancellor.1 In a short 12 January 2016 email she advised she had considered Dr Cowen’s letter of appeal and the broader issue. She confirmed the Dean’s decision, saying she was aware of and endorsed that decision at the time it was made.
  10. Under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act), Dr Cowen requested copies of all:
    1. Complaints received by the of the Vice-Chancellor’s Office and/or the Dean’s Office relating to his use of his Monash email account; and
    2. Correspondence to and from the Dean’s Office, and to and from the Vice-Chancellor’s Office, relating to revocation of his appointment as affiliate of Monash’s Faculty of Arts.
  11. Monash released to Dr Cowen a set of redacted documents. Dr Cowen sought review of that decision by the then Victorian Freedom of Information Commissioner. When the Commissioner did not make a decision within the requisite timeframe, Dr Cowen sought review at VCAT on the basis that his request was taken to be refused.
  12. In March 2017, the issue came before me for hearing. Dr Cowen represented himself. Monash was legally represented. I heard the case and reserved my decision.

The offending email sent by Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen:

On 11 Dec 2015, at 11:46 AM, Shimon Cowen <shimon.cowen@monash.edu> wrote:

Dear Councillor,

With the impending plebiscite on same-sex marriage, I thought it helpful to set out a comprehensive briefing on this matter from the standpoint of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

This took the form of a short booklet of talks which I, as a Jewish Rabbi (and son of a former Governor General of Australia, Sir Zelman Cowen), gave under the auspices of a Christian University, Campion College, in NSW. It sets out what I think is a shared perspective of the Abrahamic (Jewish-Christian-Islamic) faiths and perhaps wider yet.

I mailed the booklet to a number of Victorian Municipal Councillors. In the event that you did not receive a copy, or overlooked one which may have come in the mail, and would now like one please let me know. I received requests for some 100 copies from Councillors in NSW.

Even though you as a councillor may not be making statements on this matter, since you are close to networks of “grassroots” Australia, I thought you might be interested to see and share this material.

Please email me if you would like me to mail you a copy of this booklet at no charge. It is called “There is more than this…” I would be happy to send you more copies should you want them.

Yours Sincerely,
Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen,
Director, Institute for Judaism and Civilization


au_cases_vic_VCAT_2018_694