American jazz musician Matthew Allen Harkins (above) is a former student of the James Morrison Academy in Mount Gambier, South Australia. While studying at the Academy, he sexually assaulted a fellow student.
The academy is headed by Australian jazz musician James Morrison and affiliated with UniSA.
The James Morrison Academy was announced in late 2014, with the South Australian Government giving Morrison over $500,000 of taxpayer money in initial funding.
By 2017, the Academy was already making the news, but in all the wrong ways. A sexual harassment complaint, the details of which were never divulged, had prompted a review and recommendations for stricter rules at the Academy. The review urged policies to better prevent and respond to sexual harassment and sexual assault.
If any such policies were ever implemented, they had little effect on Harkins. The following year, he raped a fellow student at the Academy.
Just to be clear, the Macquarie Dictionary (the popular format dictionary of choice for the Australian legal system) defines “rape” as:
“[T]he crime of having sexual intercourse with someone against their will.” (p. 463, 2020 edition).
Which is what Harkins did.
After having previously engaged in consensual sex with Harkins, the victim decided she no longer wanted to engage in sexual relations with Harkins. The latter, evidently an adherent of the “no means yes” school of thought, had other ideas.
Bill Boucaut SC, for Harkins, said the saxophonist’s crime had occurred while intoxicated and after a period of consensual sex with his victim.
“He has never disputed the act, only the lack of consent … his position was she was consenting,” said Boucaut.
No means no, Harkins.
“But he accepts, by his plea, that he should have been more careful when she indicated she no longer wanted to have sexual activity.”
“He accepts, by his plea, a degree of recklessness.”
So Harkins, via Boucaut, was ludicrously insisting he had the victim’s consent while simultaneously acknowledging he should have been more “careful” and less “reckless” when forcing himself upon her without her consent.
Luckily for Harkins, his crime occurred in Australia, which meant a number of very powerful factors were working in his favour:
1. Australia has a relatively lax attitude towards sexual harassment and assault, especially when committed by those with power or influence. Which may be why the country holds the highly dubious distinction of ranking #11 in the world for reported rape.
2. Both Australian law enforcement and the legal profession share this lax attitude. A 2016 Equal Opportunity Commission found sexual harassment and predation was widespread within South Australia Police. So much so that those working at SAPOL were far more likely to be victims of sexual predation than employees in regular workplaces. SAPOL even has a long history of covering up pedophilia, including child molestation occuring within its own ranks.
Meanwhile, sexual harassment and predation is so common among lawyers and the judiciary that, last year, SA’s Chief Justice proposed mandatory annual anti-bullying and sexual harassment training for every SA lawyer.
A further demonstration of the Australian legal system’s disdain for rape victims can be gleaned from the long-held practice of forbidding divulgence of sex offenders’ previous crimes in court. Wouldn’t want the jury to get the mistaken impression that a serial sex offender is a serial sex offender, you see. Meanwhile, judges have sat and watched without protest while rape victims have been mercilessly grilled on the stand by defense lawyers regarding their previous sexual histories. This behaviour often brings victims to tears, and in some instances has even succeeded in humiliating them into giving up their already trying ordeal of seeking justice.
3. Harkins’ mentor, James Morrison, is a very wealthy and well-connected individual. In 1997 he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for his “service to music.” He has performed concerts for Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth II and US Presidents Bush & Clinton at Parliament House in Australia. On International Jazz Day 2016, James was a guest of President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House.
James Morrison with (former) South Australian Premier, Jay Weatherill, whose government awarded over $500,000 taxpayer dollars to his academy under highly questionable circumstances.
With all these factors aligned in Harkins’ favour, it was time for the white wash to begin. A series of events was put in motion that will enrage anyone who has ever been persecuted by sleazy SAPOL and the South Australian legal system for far less serious or non-existent offences.
Harkins’ Charges Were Trivialized
To reiterate, Harkins’ offence was not to have groped or touched the victim indecently – it was to engage in sexual intercourse without her consent. Despite this, SAPOL prosecution generously downgraded Harkins’ two counts of rape to a single charge of “indecent assault.” While rape carries a maximum life sentence, indecent assault carries a maximum prison term of eight years.
That was Harkins’ first major stroke of good fortune. But there was plenty more favourable treatment to come.
Harkins Was Allowed to Travel and Perform While on Bail
As a condition of his bail, Harkins was not allowed to leave South Australia. However, in late 2019 he applied to the District Court for special permission to travel to Melbourne for a concert.
By this point, Harkins’ victim had moved to Melbourne, a fact SAPOL would have been well aware of.
Despite this, Harkins’ application was successful and on 19 October 2019 he performed on stage with Morrison and the academy’s orchestra at the Jazz Lab in Brunswick, just north of the Melbourne CBD. A photo posted on social media by Morrison shows Harkins playing saxophone alongside him during the gig, which was recorded live with plans to release it as an album.
In full keeping with the callous nature of the Australian legal system, Harkins’ victim was never informed by the police or court that he would be traveling to Victoria.
The Influential James Morrison Wrote a Letter of Reference to the Court for Harkins
Any decent person would balk at the idea of writing a character reference for someone who had plead guilty to a sexual assault charge. James Morrison, however, is clearly unencumbered by any such reservations.
He wrote a glowing character reference on Harkins’ behalf, calling his student “professional” and “always respectful of those with whom he performed.”
Morrison allegedly “was at pains to point out he abhorrs any form of behaviour that is disrespectful, harmful or violent toward any person.”
Actions speak louder than words. One of the most prominent figures in Australia’s male-dominated jazz industry was claiming he “abhors … any form of behaviour that is disrespectful, harmful or violent,” while simultaneously writing a gushing character reference for someone who had plead guilty to indecent assault. This may help explain why the Australian jazz music scene has a reputation for misogyny, looking the other way while women are “raped, stalked, groped, assaulted and blackmailed by men in the industry.”
James Morrision, who did his bit to fight Australia’s high rate of sexual assault by writing a glowing character reference for someone guilty of sexual assault.
The Final Act: Harkins Walks Away Without a Conviction
All this was a mere prelude to the final insult that was Harkins’ trial.
Despite his charge carrying a potential eight-year prison sentence, on Wednesday, 5 August 2020, Harkins was allowed to walk out of court without serving a single day in jail.
What’s more, he did not even receive a criminal conviction despite pleading guilty to such a serious offence!
Harkins’ ‘penalty’ was a complete joke. He was given a two-year, $5000 good behaviour bond. This was an absolute non-punishment given that Harkins was returning to the US, where the South Australian good behaviour bond carries no legal weight whatsoever.
His lack of a criminal conviction, meanwhile, means he will be eligible to register for teaching jobs. If Harkins is asked by employers about any previous criminal history, and he lies, their only means of catching him out will be to run an Internet search and hopefully come across articles such as this one.
The District Court judge who handed out this remarkably lenient sentence was Rauf Soulio, who cited the character reference from Morrison as one of the reasons he delivered such a dream verdict to Harkins.
Like all Australian judges, Soulio was a practising lawyer prior to joining the judiciary. One of his more notorious clients was convicted pedophile and former SA magistrate Peter Liddy. Soulio (along with Richard White, now a justice of the Supreme Court) was one of the lawyers hired by Liddy to try and block a civil damages action by his victims.
The prosecution section at the sex predator-rich SAPOL, meanwhile, continued to bestow remarkable generosity upon Harkins by not appealing his absurdly light penalty.
The Dodgey Dealings Behind the James Morrison Academy
The entire affair absolutely stank. And it didn’t end with the sexual assault committed by Harkins.
Morrison was aware of the charges against Harkins the entire time. But in 2019, while awaiting trial, Harkins was invited back to the Academy to complete his study and reintegrate with the remaining students in his year, many of whom were women.
As the victim pointed out in her impact statement, during this year Harkins was allowed to tour with Morrison’s band and his image was posted regularly to the Academy’s social media profiles.
Morrison and his Academy’s indifference to Harkins’ offending was not the only thing giving off a very bad smell.
The secretive SA Premier’s Office had previously blocked a number of FOI requests into the questionable financial dealings behind Morrsion’s Academy. However, while the Harkins saga was still playing out in court, the SA Ombudsman overturned the anti-transparency determinations made by the Premier’s Office and ordered the documents to be made public.
Those documents showed Morrison was given $550,000 by the SA Government from a “Regional Development Fund” without an application, despite others being expected to submit applications.
The documents contradicted statements by Minister for Regional Development Geoff Brock, who claimed in 2018 “all due diligence” relating to the $500,000 Morrison grant “would have been done away from [him] as Minister”, and that “every application [went] through a process, and those applications were assessed by an external group.”
But internal emails between government staffers show Brock personally signed off on the Regional Development funds being transferred to Morrison, and even created a new category of arts and cultural funding to justify the decision.
The funds were awarded despite admissions by one senior government staff member that “the whole arrangement/business case [for the Academy] up to now has been pretty loose” and concerns by another that “the whole agreement strikes me as equivalent to a hand-shake.”
The emails also show Brock expressly requested he be given credit for the initiative of the Morrison Academy funding.
South Australian MP Geoff Brock, who was instrumental in gaining taxpayer funding for the James Morrison Academy under questionable circumstances.
Brock claimed he had been convinced of the Morrison Academy project’s worth when a business associate of Morrison’s, Dale Cleves, knocked on Brock’s motel door with a bottle of red wine in April 2014. In his speech at the opening of Morrison’s education business, Brock said of the visit: “Dale, you were certainly very convincing.”
If flash talking and a bottle of wine was all it took to convince Brock, then little wonder the Academy turned out to be a flop.
Large numbers of predicted students were used to justify the lavish taxpayer-funded grant to the Academy, which is a for-profit private business. But the college has consistently failed to meet those expectations. Independent researcher Matilda Duncan reported in 2019 that, after four years in operation, student numbers at the James Morrison Academy of Music have shifted little from the initial 50 enrolled when the Academy opened in March 2015.
More recently, the Academy is stating at its website that “After six amazing years we will have for the first time, no new student intake in 2021.” The Academy is blaming this on “the Covid pandemic” and notes “we have not been allocated any Diploma or Bachelor seats for 2021.” No mention is made of the Academy’s lacklustre enrollment performance.
And so the taxpayer once again bears the brunt for another ill-thought and shady government escapade.
Justice Was Not Served
The biggest victim of this disgraceful saga, of course, is the female student who was sexually assaulted by Harkins, only to watch him walk free without even receiving a criminal conviction.
Below are excerpts taken from her witness impact statement.
EXTRACTS FROM THE IMPACT STATEMENT OF MATTHEW HARKINS’ RAPE VICTIM
“I was sexually assaulted by Matthew Harkins whilst we were both students of the James Morrison Academy of Music.
Following this assault, Mr Harkins was given permission to return to the same university almost immediately and attend his classes.
With some perseverance and the support of the people closest to me, I finished my degree later that year.
In 2019, Mr Harkins was invited back to the Academy to complete his study, reintegrated with the remaining students in his year, many of whom were women.
During this year Mr Harkins was allowed to tour with James Morrison’s band and his image was posted regularly to the Academy’s social media profiles.
James Morrison was aware of the charges against Mr Harkins the entire time.
Prior to this incident it never occurred to me that I could find myself in an intimate setting with someone who did not share my regard for my personal safety.
I have since learned how the act of sexual assault will disassemble one’s world view very quickly.
I was assaulted by my classmate and further humiliated and discredited.
I have been frightened every day since this assault. In my places of work and study, in my home, and in my relationships.
I have been frightened of speaking up about these events and telling my story out of dread that my words could be turned against me.
Since making a police report the day after being assaulted, the ongoing legal processes that were required have been exhausting.
The prospect of having to answer questions in court about the details of the assault was something that I have thought about every single day.
Reading and re-reading my statement to ensure that it was well-learned and committed to memory became a violent act of living and reliving the trauma of my experience.
As such, it has been a difficult decision to proceed with these charges, since throughout the process, the outcome was always unknown. It became usual to wonder why I was proceeding at all.
Today I would like to make clear that I have chosen to proceed with these charges in order to remind myself of my inherent right to bodily safety as well as make clear my determination and exceptional agency to those who would seek to rob me of these qualities.
These circumstances can produce no winners.
I was assaulted, my body was violated and my sense of personal safety, corrupted.
This damage cannot be undone.
If any good can come of what has been an excruciating ordeal I hope that Mr Harkins has been forced to reflect at some length on how he violated my consent and my body.
It is my hope that no other woman should ever feel violated like this by him ever again.”