Melville-Jones and AMAC have final say on FYROM group complaint
Here is the response from Professor John Melville-Jones following the termination of a complaint made against him by a FYROM organisation:
Now that the dust has settled, and the Australian Human Rights Commission has completed its procedures, I can say something about what happened.
In the first place, I should apologise for causing you so much trouble. The fault was mine. I was careless. I said in my after-dinner speech at the end of 2010 that I had met some people who had come from Yugoslav Macedonia in Perth, and that although they were good citizens, many of them were not well educated.
In the context of my speech I meant that they had not been correctly taught about the history in ancient times of their country of origin, which did not become a part of Macedonia until after the Roman conquest. Because this fact had been concealed from them, they believed that it was OK to claim that Alexander the Great was one of them, and erect a statue of him (and some of them may even believe that they are the descendants of the earliest inhabitants of Macedonia). But because I didn't make it clear that I was thinking of the way in which they had been 'educated' in the ancient history of their country, it was possible to take my statement out of its context and create this complaint.
My comparison of them with naked persons who were trying to steal the clothing of others, and jackdaws parading around in the feathers of peacocks, because they were attempting to connect themselves with Alexander the Great was also mentioned in the complaint, but was not treated as seriously.
So here is my report. There were long delays in arranging the meeting, because someone was unavailable, and then the Conciliator for the Australian Human Rights Commission had to withdraw at the last moment in November and couldn't be replaced at short notice, and after that everything fell into the Christmas black hole, so we didn't meet until March.
The complainants presented an impressive array of legal talent. They employed a barrister, and the rule is that a barrister must be 'instructed' by a solicitor, so there were two lawyers on the other side. I don't know whether the solicitor, who had a Slavic surname, was acting pro bono and not charging, but the barrister would certainly have been expensive.
We were there for four hours. It cost me $1.25. My advanced age entitles me to free bus travel between 9.00 and 3.30, but because the meeting began at 9.30 I had to pay my fare one way.
The University of Western Australia (UWA), which was joined in the complaint as a second respondent on the basis that it was vicariously liable, was represented by its salaried General Counsel who did not receive any special payment for attendance. On the other hand, much more than four billable hours at barrister's rates (the meeting plus 'receiving instructions', plus all the billable hours spent in reading documents, making telephone calls, photocopying documents and whatever else lawyers do), must have been very expensive for the other side.
The proceedings were not recorded, or if they were, no minutes are available. We were enjoined to observe confidentiality, so I can't go into details. All that I can say is that the barrister had a sweet voice, and she didn't seem to think that I had done anything very terrible.
The complainants had demanded three separate apologies from me, the UWA and from AMAC, and the right to compose a statement which would be posted on AMAC's web site.
In the end, however, they accepted my offer to create an 'expression of regret' for causing offence to them by saying that they were not well educated, one which would also state that they were good Australian citizens (which I had also said in my after-dinner speech). Also, I suggested that the last paragraph of the speech, which had been placed on AMAC's web site, and described them as 'not well educated', should be removed. This has now been done, and the Commission has determined that the matter is now terminated, on the basis that the complainant no longer wishes to pursue it.
Their web site now announces that I 'regret my remarks'. This is not true. My statement expressed regret for making one remark which, when taken out of context, could be interpreted as meaning that their level of general education was poor. Of course, I do not regret anything else. Their web site also states that the Vice-Chancellor of UWA 'agreed' to meet them. This is again not correct. The Vice-Chancellor, on his own initiative, invited them to meet him, so that he could make it clear that the UWA does not discriminate against any ethnic group.
I wonder why they went to such lengths. The only explanation that occurs to me is that since I was speaking the truth when I pointed out that their country was not a part of the kingdom of
Alexander the Great, and my position entitles me to speak with authority about matters relating to ancient history, and even more because I am not a Greek, some hotheads among them might have considered that I was dangerous, and should therefore be silenced.
I feel sorry for them, because they have spent a lot of money and haven't got much out of it. It is a pity that there couldn't have been a different approach from this formal complaint to the
Human Rights Commission. In fact, something better might have happened, because towards the end of 2010 I was invited to attend one of their meetings - I think that it was one at which a film was to be shown. I couldn't accept the invitation, because I was going to be away from Perth on that evening, and it wasn't repeated.
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