Above: Councillor Jax Ewin (left) & Mrs Amanda-Sue Markham (right).
On the 23 July 2019 a Code of Conduct Complaint was made against Hobart City Councillor Jax Ewin by Mrs Amanda-Sue Markham, the former Liberal Party candidate for the seats of Franklin (2016) and Clark (2019) and former staff member for the office of Eric Abetz.
According to the Code of Conduct Panel’s Determination Report, Amanda-Sue Markham alleged that Cr Ewin had breached the Code by circulating an email to politicians, local government councillors and the media containing ‘baseless views’ that Markham claimed “had the potential to to damage the reputation of her and her husband.”
Although the report lacked a clear example of Cr Ewin’s alleged ‘offensive statements’ in the email, it described Markham’s allegations as having included a number of “barely legible email addresses,” and “the content of a message signed by ‘Holly’.”
However, the Panel noted that the email did not carry any insignia of the Hobart City Council, nor any reference to ‘Holly’ as an elected member, and the only reference to ‘Council’ was in the last paragraph, in which Cr Ewin stated: “Not sure what, if anything, we are able to do on this from a council perspective…”
The report also noted that “there was a fine vertical line appearing by the side of the addressees and the content of the email,” and that “This often appears in a chain of emails, which suggests that the extract supporting the complaint may have been part of a larger email exchange that any number of people could have contributed to.”
“The Panel concluded that in the event that Cr Ewin did compile and send the email, it was an expression of an individual’s view as opposed to that of a councillor.”
On the 18 March 2020, Markham made an additional allegation regarding a Facebook post made by Cr Ewin, claiming the content of the post was offensive to both Markham and her husband, Pastor Campbell Markham of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church.
According to the post, Cr Ewin had stated that the complainant was “the wife of the minister of the church I used to go to, for some nonspecific remarks I made about my time with them in an email chain. I can’t wait to put some of my deeply personal experiences from that time on the public record, to set things straight.”
The Code of Conduct Panel determined that the published material attributed to Cr Ewin contained their personal opinions, and were not expressed by them whilst acting as an elected representative of the Hobart City Council.
The complaint against Cr Ewin was subsequently dismissed.
So, what exactly did Councillor Ewin say in this email that caused Mrs Amanda-Sue Markham such offence as to launch a Code of Conduct complaint with the Hobart City Council on behalf of herself and her husband?
I may be in a position to answer that.
In 2017 I was involved in an anti-discrimination complaint against Pastor Campbell Markham regarding the behaviour of Cornerstone Church street-preacher David Gee in the Hobart CBD.
The complaint also included the Hobart City Council, as they were responsible for governing the by-laws surrounding the Speakers Corner area in Elizabeth Street Mall where Gee would preach on behalf of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church.
On 21 July 2019, I sent a chain-email to all the members of the Hobart City Council (as well as some media outlets and local politicians) regarding an article featuring Martyn Iles that had recently been published in The Australian magazine which briefly mentioned my 2017 complaint.
I also included other relevant articles and supplementary notes, such as Pastor Markham’s response to the article, and a link to the original blog itself (which has since been removed).
Councillor Ewin responded to my email with the following statement:
“I’ve had some pretty shocking personal experiences with Campbell and Amanda-Sue Markham in the past; so none of this surprises me in the least. It can be difficult navigating where people’s rights begin and end, especially in the case of conflicting and competing interests. But I’m pretty sure when your beliefs cause direct suffering to others it’s time to reassess- and if you’re unable to do that yourself, it’s up to others to minimise harm and promote understanding and community.”
“Not sure what, if anything, we are able to do on this from a council perspective aside from being aware of people promoting divisive and hateful views and doing what we can to counter them.”
As the Code of Conduct Panel noted, it was Cr Ewin’s comments in this email that Markham claimed to have caused her and Pastor Markham ‘offence and embarrassment’.
This would explain why I myself was not contacted or informed about this complaint in any way leading up to or during the investigation, only becoming aware of Markham’s complaint against Cr Ewin after the Code of Conduct Determination Report had been released on the Tasmanian Government website last May.
What this did not explain, however, was how Markham had been able to obtain a copy of Cr Ewin’s statement from our private email correspondence in the first place.
After checking the original email chain myself, I realised that Cr Ewin had apparently hit ‘reply all’ when responding, resulting in their response being sent to every other address in the chain.
I contacted Councillor Jax Ewin last May who confirmed this, adding they had hit ‘reply all’ by mistake when attempting to reply from their phone.
Councillor Ewin described the Code of Conduct compliant by Markham as being ‘clearly vexatious’ and ‘politically motivated.’
“It’s a real shame the complaint wasn’t dismissed out of hand, as it wasted a bunch of both my and the ratepayers’ time, as well as the Council and ratepayers money,” they said.
According to Councilor Ewin, the approximate cost to ratepayers for Mrs Markham’s attempted Code of Conduct complaint would have been around $3,500.
Councilor Jax Ewin was willing to describe some of their experiences with Pastor Campbell & Amanda-Sue Markham, despite the difficulty involved:
“At the time I attended Soul Church, I was aged 18-20 and married to a physically, sexually, emotionally and financially abusive man.”
“I attended marriage counselling with both Campbell and Amanda-Sue, who prayed for my sins and told me I had no choice but to stay. I was 19 years old and being told to ‘think of growing old with my husband, and having my grandchildren sitting on my knees’.”
“Thankfully, eventually those lines gave me a lightbulb moment of ‘I am way too young for my life to be over already’. So with a great deal of suffering, I did manage to escape that life; and for that I am incredibly grateful.”
“I don’t know whether they were aware of the abuse or not, but the fact is that they were untrained to be providing that kind of “support” to people, especially vulnerable, disadvantaged and marginalised people.”
“My heart breaks for the many migrant families, people struggling with mental health and addiction issues, and repressed gender identities and sexualities who find themselves part of such a hurtful but close-knit, trauma-bonded community.”
Despite this being the fifth complaint made against Cr Jax Ewin since being elected to the Hobart City Council, they did not agree with fellow Alderman Simon Behrakis’s recent call to abolish the Code of Conduct entirely.
Last August, During the 2020 Tasmanian Liberal Party State Conference, Hobart City Alderman Simon Behrakis spoke on a motion to either reform or abolish the Local Government Code of Conduct entirely, arguing that councillors are being held to a “higher standard that was not expected of MP’s.”
It should be noted that Alderman Behrakis (who himself works as a staff member for the office of Eric Abetz) campaigned for Amanda-Sue Markham when she ran as the Liberal candidate for the electoral seat of Clark against incumbent Andrew Wilkie in 2019.
Former-Alderman Tanya Denison (who herself launched a successful Code of Conduct complaint against Lord Mayor Anna Reynolds last February) also campaigned for Markham during the 2019 election.
Despite his vocal opposition to the Code of Conduct process, Alderman Simon Behrakis has declined to comment on Amanda-Sue Markham’s complaint against fellow Hobart City Councillor Jax Ewin, or Tanya Denison’s complaint against Lord Mayor Anna Reynolds
According to Pastor Campbell Markham, another anti-discrimination complaint was made last year against Mr David Gee, the Hobart street-evangelist employed by Cornerstone Presbyterian Church to preach their religious views in the Hobart CBD.
In an article written by Campbell Markham published by Australian Presbyterian (AP) on the 12th of September 2020, he claimed the complaint had been made in regards to Mr Gee’s comments on LGBTQ ‘conversion therapy’.
Pastor Markham claimed that the complainant “would like a formal apology to be made and a fine issued to Mr Gee”, but “would settle for the apology and removal of Mr Gee from this public platform of speech.”
According to Pastor Markham, David Gee would most likely refuse to apologise during mediation.
“I know David. He will never apologise, and nor should he. If the complaint succeeds he faces ruinous fines and jail time,” he said.
However, Pastor Campbell Markham also argued that Section 17 of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act was comparable to Beijing’s new ‘security laws’ being imposed in Hong Kong, stating this section of the act was “no less insidious or dehumanising.”
“But before we weep for Hong Kong let’s look to our own backyard. For in Tasmania we live under laws that are no less insidious and dehumanising.”
“Hong Kong’s new ‘security laws’ should outrage us. They will shroud the truth, atrophy thought, and put humanity in the shadows,” he continued.
“Tasmanian anti-discrimination laws are no less dehumanising and harmful.”
“If we are only free to say what another person may not find offensive, then we are not free at all. If we do not stand with people like David Gee, then, whether we love him or loathe him, we give up the principle of free expression for all.”
“It is time for our parliamentarians, guardians of our liberty and democracy, to repeal Section 17, and to recover our freedom of expression.”
“Unmuzzle us. Let us speak,” he concludes.
Given the context of Markham’s previous Code of Conduct complaint, Councillor Jax Ewin responded to Pastor Markham’s statements with the following:
“I find it very amusing that the same people who advocate for freedom of speech are also the people who do their utmost to shut down the voices of others who espouse views different to their own,” said Cr Ewin.
“The Markhams have attempted to silence me for speaking about my own experiences, despite that being in very general terms, through the Code of Conduct process; meanwhile labelling anti-discrimination legislation ‘draconian’ and ‘muzzling’.”
“I think it’s pretty clear what their agenda is here: some people are just more equal than others, in their minds.”
A spokesperson for the Hobart City Council confirmed that the City of Hobart had been added as a respondent to a complaint made against Gee in 2020, but that the complaint was subsequently withdrawn last October.
Sam Mazur has an interest in paranormal and supernatural claims and conspiracy theories, as well as alternative spiritual beliefs, cults and con-artists. Whilst not himself a believer, Sam promotes critical-thinking and general awareness towards these subjects within the community.
PDF Version: https://ap.org.au/wp-content/
Source: Tasmanian Times https://www.tasmaniantimes.com/2021/01/councillor-accused-offensive-comments-pastors-wife/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=councillor-accused-offensive-comments-pastors-wife