QUT sacks academics – update

I have just received this message from John Hookham regarding the ongoing disciplinary action against him and Garry MacLennan at QUT in Brisbane. You can find my previous posts on this case here.

Dear Colleagues,

Some months ago, I sent out a letter informing you about a PhD project entitled Laughing at the Disabled: Creating Comedy that Confronts and Offends. This was a project being carried out by Michael Noonan who is a PhD student at our university, Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

My colleague, Dr Gary MacLennan and I strongly objected to this project on the grounds that it set out to demean people with cognitive disabilities. We felt that the central thrust of the project was to mock and ridicule people with intellectual impairment. Furthermore, we questioned the fact that the university had given this project ethical clearance. We pointed out that the correct protocols for Ethical Research involving Humans had not been properly followed. We brought this to the attention of the university, (QUT) by writing to the Dean and by submitting a Formal Complaint to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Prof Arun Sharma.

All our objections were ignored. As a consequence we wrote an article in the Higher Education Supplement of the national newspaper, The Australian. In the article we were critical of the project, the supervisory team and the Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) that approved the project.

As a result of writing this article, Dr MacLennan and I were charged by the university for Misconduct and had to face a Misconduct Investigation Committee. The Chair of this committee and the two academics on the committee were chosen by the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Peter Coaldrake. We had no say whatsoever about who should be on the committee.

In my opinion, the Hearing that we faced was nothing other than a kangaroo court or Star Chamber. It seemed clear to us, from the outset, that we would be found guilty and that the verdict was pre-determined. During the process, we were not allowed to screen the film to show what we had objected to and the committee refused to view the material. This despite that fact that it was our response to the material that had prompted us to write the article. The committee also refused to examine the ethical clearance process.

In my opinion, during the Hearing, witnesses for my defense were threatened and intimidated. At the end of the Hearing, my representative, Dr Lisa Bridle, was frightened that the university might take some action against her for supporting me and immediately burst into tears.

The next day Dr MacLennan collapsed and had a nervous breakdown. He was treated by a medical physician.

The committee subsequently found us guilty of all the charges brought against us. There is no appeal process and the Vice-Chancellor decides on the penalty. There are no checks and balances in the system to limit his power. Prof Coaldrake decided to suspend us without pay for six months. He also informed us that he would be bringing a second series of charges against us.

Fortunately we were able to get legal counsel and we are currently in the process of contesting the manner in which our investigation was conducted. But we still have further charges hanging over our heads.

In the Hearing one of the charges against us was that we had misrepresented Michael Noonan’s work. There was a scene in the film involving an interaction between one of the disabled men (James who is autistic) and an Aboriginal woman. This took place in a country barroom. James was told by Noonan to enter the bar and ask if there were any young women in the town as he was looking for a girlfriend. In the scene we saw, the Aboriginal woman was inebriated and embraced James.

Noonan claimed that we misrepresented him as he never intended to screen that scene in public again. But now he has put this scene up on the web and said he is very proud of it. An Aboriginal friend of ours has gone to Boulia and made contact with May, the woman in the scene. Her name is May Lulu Dunne and she is a tribal woman from the Northern territory. She is horrified and feels shame that such images of her have been put up on the web. She emphatically denies giving permission for the filmmaking and her partner supports her version of the affair. It must be said however that Noonan claims to have a release form though no one has sighted it.

QUT has a policy of reconciliation with indigenous Australians. It has also signed onto the ethical protocols for research involving indigenous Australians.

Ted Watson who is acting for May Dunne has made an official complaint to the NHMRC, which is the body charged with seeing that university research involving humans is ethical.

I and he are convinced that QUT has acted in violation of the protocols for research involving indigenous Australians. These are as follows

National Statement for Research Involving Humans

Research involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

Six core values

· Reciprocity

· Respect

· Equality

· Responsibility

· Survival and Protection

· Spirit and integrity

The Clauses

The researcher should ensure that the research methods are respectful.

There should be evidence of support for the research project from relevant Aboriginal and Torrres Strait Islander communities and the research methodology should engage with their social and cultural practices.

The researcher should seek to identify any potential negative consequences of the proposed research, to design process to monitor them and to advise steps for minimizing them.

The research methods and processes should provide opportunities to develop trust and a sense of equal research partnerships.

The benefits… should include… research outcomes that advance the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

The described benefits from research should have been discussed with and agreed to by the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander research stakeholders.

The Statement makes it quite clear that researchers need to obtain permission from not only the participants but also the Aboriginal community. Aboriginal academics and elders have fought hard for these protocols to ensure that their people are not exploited. QUT is bound by these protocols but is clearly in violation of them here. Prof Rod Wissler has appeared on national television as a spokesman for QUT claiming that the scene with May is fine and does not breach research ethical protocols.

It is quite clear that Michael Noonan has ignored these research protocols. So not only are the disabled being laughed at in Michael Noonan’s research, he has also included a comical portrayal of an Aboriginal woman, who has done nothing to merit such ridicule and mockery.

Once again I ask you as concerned academics or citizens to make clear that such practices violate our ethical code and are unacceptable. Those concerned should write to Gordon.McGurk@health.gov.au of the National Health & Medical Research Council and ask him to investigate this matter immediately.

Please also write your concerns to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough at Mal.Bough.MP@aph.gov.au and the Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin at j.macklin.mp@aph.go.au

Thank you once again for your support.

John Hookham

This message was also sent from Ted Watson

Dear Friends,

My Name is Ted Watson. I am an Aboriginal man. I have been granted power of attorney to act on behalf of May Lulu Dunne who was filmed by Michael Noonan in the Australian Hotel in Boulia Easter 2006 as part of his PhD Project. The project was called Laughing at the Disabled: Creating Comedy that Confronts, Offends and Entertains.

In Easter 2006 Noonan took two intellectually impaired men to Boulia to find girls and to ask about the Min Min Lights. He sent them into the pub and there they met May Dunne. She is a tribal woman from the Northern Territory and is a decent caring grandmother of 52 years of age. She had too much to drink when Noonan filmed her but this is an exception for her. On Noonan’s film she comes across as the stereotypical drunken indigenous woman that white people love to portray. In May’s own words she tells us

“At no time was I asked permission to be filmed or sign any paper…I was hurt and shamed to see my actions shown on the internet in [the] Courier Mail newspaper website at our local library by Mr Ted Watson on Friday 14//07. I watched ABC and SBS hoping I would not be see[n] by everybody especially my people and family in a drunken way. I am upset now and want my pictures taken of the website…”

Noonan and QUT have broken all of the protocols for doing research involving indigenous Australians. We the Aboriginal people of Australia fought hard for these protocols. They are

National Statement for Research Involving Humans

Research involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

Six core values

· Reciprocity

· Respect

· Equality

· Responsibility

· Survival and Protection

· Spirit and integrity

Clauses in the Protocol
The researcher should ensure that the research methods are respectful.

There should be evidence of support for the research project from relevant Aboriginal and Torrres Strait Islander communities and the research methodology should engage with their social and cultural practices.

The researcher should seek to identify any potential negative consequences of the proposed research, to design process to monitor them and to advise steps for minimizing them.

The research methods and processes should provide opportunities to develop trust and a sense of equal research partnerships.

The benefits… should include… research outcomes that advance the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

The described benefits from research should have been discussed with and agreed to by the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander research stakeholders.

I repeat that Michael Noonan has clearly broken all these protocols. Yet QUT set up an internal review following a complaint about his research and they found him not guilty. The academics who did this have betrayed my people and they have also shamed their own university.

May has also asked me to say that she thinks it is nasty to make fun of and rubbish people like Darren and James who do not understand what is going on. May herself is the guardian and carer of an intellectually disabled man. The Aboriginal people of Boulia were horrified when Noonan and Spectrum Organization put Daren and James into the rodeo ring and made them act being a bull and a matador so people would laugh at them. May and her family could not understand why people were being so cruel to James and Darren. But then we Aborigines have never understood why white Australians can be so cruel to other whites.

There is now an interview with me up on YouTube. The link below will get you there.

Please pass on the link to all interested parties especially indigenous groups all round the world.

We Aborigines are having a very hard time now, what with our rights being trampled on and our land being taken off us. We need help and support from everyone.

We need an apology from QUT to May Dunne, compensation for her suffering and the removal of Noonan’s footage of her from the Courier Mail website.

Yours in the struggle

Edward James Watson

This is now an international issue that hopefully will seriously embarrass QUT and vice-chancellor Peter Coaldrake. Here’s an interview with UCLA Professor of Philosophy Calvin Normore. He describes the suspension of Garry and John as a serious threat to academic freedom.

3 Responses to QUT sacks academics – update

  1. Michael Noonan says:

    This is Michael Noonan. These posts contains many errors of fact: my comments here are to set the record straight about the most significant – in particular, the allegations that the research approval regimes I implemented were flawed and corrupt. My study was approved by the QUT Ethics Committee before any filming was undertaken.

    Subsequently, and in response to the concerns raised by John Hookham and Gary MacLennan, my study was subjected to a full ethics audit by a committee of review, which included one expert member external to QUT.

    That committee found I had not breached the relevant ethics guidelines.

    All documentation was shared with the audit committee, including the appropriate consent and release forms. I have this documentation for all 33 people who participated in the film production. The accusations that appropriate consent was not gathered or was gathered under duress or fabricated after the event are not true and will not stand informed scrutiny.

    There are many other errors of fact in this video – my film crew was not even in Boulia 18 months ago as claimed and there was no hostility to us at any time from Boulia residents.

    Reluctantly but proudly, I made my film rushes available for public review to counter the innuendoes and untruths maliciously propagated over the depiction of disability in my film and also to set the record straight about the scene in the hotel at Boulia.

    It had been obnoxiously misrepresented from the beginning and was hysterically reported in The London Times that James had been ‘severely beaten’ by an aboriginal woman – a vile and unsubstantiated slur.

    I hoped that releasing my footage would destroy the negative stereotypes invoked by so many uninformed commentators. I am distressed to hear of the claim that May feels ‘hurt and shamed’ by that footage. Acknowledging this may be the case, and out of respect for her, I have written to the media outlets hosting my film rushes and asked them to remove those rushes from their websites.

    I am happy to be held to account for my actions and my study in any properly-constituted space but I do not recognise Youtube, which has no means of testing gossip, innuendo and lies, as the forum in which to deal with these serious matters. I am prepared to discuss my study and its impact in any properly-constituted place and with any person of good faith – if this applies to you and you have genuine concerns, please send me an email.

  2. Anonymous says:

    What a load of total lies from Hookham and MacLennan. From the start, Noonan described the aboriginal lady as warm and friendly and in no way presented her in a disrespectful manner. It was Noonan’s intention that the particular clip be seen by a small group who were present at his confirmation and made it clear that it would probably not even make it to the final film.

    So what did Hookham and MacLennan do. Described the lady as a drunken aboriginal who acted sexually inappropriately, published this description in The Australian newspaper, proceded to send this information throughout the world via the internet and blogs, and finally accused Noonan of a cover up if he did not release the footage.

    So now that the footage is available, they now blame Noonan for her embarasement. It seems that if anyone owes this lady an apology it would be Hookham and MacLennan.

  3. Nell Blair says:

    Gary MacLennan and QUT ignored all ethical standards in McLennan’s promotion of the former principal of Cherbourg State School, Chris Sarra. After having been principal for a mere 18 months, MacLennan applied for funding to do Sarra’s story of having “turned around the Cherbourg Community” – see QUT newspaper article “Principal’s Story of Hope on Film” and also a blog on the Marxist website from MacLennan.

    All the articles promote Sarra as having miraculous powers to undo 100 years of tragic history that the community has endured. All it took for this Aboriginal hero to deal with that past was his own brilliance. This ridicules the community as being passive victims sitting by too inept to deal with the situation of “domestic violence”. etc. This is far from the truth as the Cherbourg community do numerous activities in an attempt to reverse their sad siuation.

    What a load of cod’s wallop. Even after Sarra’s statstics were found to be lies and that most of the community’s children were enrolled in the two primary schools in Murgon. QUT did not report on his quietly managed move sideways into a leadership project. The Premier’s director-general, Ken Smith, carefully hid Sarra’s false claims and he remains a so-called Indigenous education “expert” with no challenges or insights into the truth of his removal.

    Well done Mac Lennan! You created a demigod from a fraudster. QUT should have learned a lesson in marketing of ex-students but have they really?

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