The headline from Australian Doctor (2/4/20) reads, “GP suspended for ‘endorsing genocide’ on social media”.
Free speech is one thing; incitement to violence is another. If Melbourne GP Jereth Kok has used social media to endorse genocide, then the decision by the Medical Board of Australia to suspend his registration is justified. If he has done no such thing, then the Board has acted disgracefully, wrongfully defaming Dr Kok and destroying his medical career.
We can judge for ourselves which is the guilty party.
Below is the one and only post in which Dr Kok refers to genocide, of the thirty or so posts presented by the Board to the recent Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal appeal. Dr Kok shared this dossier of posts with a couple of support people last year and I can confirm that this is his only statement alluding to genocide.
Context is everything. Kok is commenting in 2012 on an article by Christian social commentator Bill Muehlenberg entitled, “When Aid Money becomes Killing Money”. Muehlenberg objected to the Australian Labor Government joining other Western governments in funding abortions in poor countries. He argued that “what we really have is coercive utopians from the West working overtime to decimate the populations of poor overseas nations” and quoted a pro-life leader from the US characterising such policies as “population control aimed at poor dark-skinned women”.
The staunchly pro-life Dr Kok posted this bitterly ironic comment:
Thanks to “family planning”, developed nations (Europe, Japan, North America) are in steep decline and are facing an impending financial and economic crisis that comes with an aged population.
See for example what is happening in Japan: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12296077
Soon, our civilisations will be vanquished, and the Earth will be overrun by Black people. The solution is clear: we must take “family planning” to poor countries and exterminate them before it is too late!
Anybody with a reading age above 12 can tell, in context, that this is irony, a rhetorical device by which Kok scorns the decadent West for exporting its culture of death to poor countries. The Medical Board, however, asserts the exact opposite: that Dr Kok’s comment is an endorsement of genocide! Incredibly, the VCAT agrees, headlines come out about Kok endorsing genocide and both his reputation and career are trashed.
How can the Medical Board of Australia perpetrate such an absurd injustice? The Board has gravely defamed this GP and owes him an immediate apology and public retraction.
David van Gend is a GP in Toowoomba
John Steenhof Principal Lawyer
Human Rights Law Alliance
With the unfolding Covid-19 crisis that has enveloped the world, everyone is facing uncertainty and anxiety. The isolation forced by this pandemic is forcing many Australians to reconsider their priorities. Our doctors, nurses and health professionals are being called on to stand on the front- line of fighting the coronavirus. Skilled doctors are in short-supply and they are a vital part of the response to the Covid-19 crisis.
In the middle of this pandemic, a Victorian tribunal just upheld a decision of the Medical Board of Australia to suspend a Melbourne GP using emergency powers - solely on the basis of his internet posts. This decision has important implications for freedom of speech, protecting the right to a fair trial, and the invasion of cancel culture into the law.
Dr Jereth Kok is a Christian and a second generation Australian-Chinese GP with 15-years’ experience in the medical profession. In 2018, following an anonymous complaint, the Medical Board of Australia began investigating Dr Jereth’s internet posts without his knowledge. In August 2019, the Medical Board gave Dr Jereth notice that they proposed to suspend his licence to practice medicine because of his internet posts and gave him less than a week to prepare for a hearing. At the hearing, the Medical Board of Australia suspended Dr Jereth in advance of a full investigation or trial on the basis that it is in “the public interest”. This despite the fact that no patient has ever complained about Dr Jereth and there has never been any issue with how he practices medicine. On appeal, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal upheld the Medical Board’s actions and published its decision on 28 March 2020. The full details of Dr Jereth’s story and some analysis of the case can be found in my analysis of the Tribunal Decisionhere.
Dr Jereth is a good doctor. He does his job well. He treats his colleagues well. He treats his patients well. That doesn’t matter. Solely on the basis of his internet posts, this good doctor can’t join other doctors on the front lines of the battle against a deadly disease in 2020.
This happened not because Dr Jereth did the wrong thing but because Dr Jereth said the wrong thing – and all originating from an anonymous complaint.
First, observations need to be made about Dr Jereth’s internet posts. In its decision, the Tribunal did not republish any of Dr Jereth’s purportedly offensive internet posts. This makes commentary difficult. The Tribunal is careful not to make findings that Dr Jereth’s internet posts are actually offensive, but they say that they have a “real potential” to cause concern/offense to a range of groups and that some comments “appear” to denigrate others or “appear” to endorse violence.
The fact that the Tribunal is circumspect about calling the posts denigrating or offensive suggests that Dr Jereth’s internet posts were strongly stated and used much satire, spoof, parody and hyperbole but that they were not clear manifestos of violence, hate and denigration. Statements advocating violence are criminal matters for the Police, not matters for decision by regulators.
It also may be arguable that the medical profession has higher standards of conduct and that doctors must uphold the reputation of the profession when writing on the internet. That would clearly be a matter for guidance and education for doctors rather than draconian sanction.
Whatever one thinks about Dr Jereth’s posts, the central question is not whether they were wise, appropriate or elegantly stated. The question is whether internet posts alone justify use of emergency powers to effectively cancel a doctor’s career without a trial.
This has key implications for freedom of speech, the right to a fair trial and how “cancel culture” is now being grafted into law.
Freedom of Speech
All doctors are subject to the oversight of the Medical Board of Australia under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law. This law gives the Medical Board (a bureaucratic and administrative body) exceptional power over doctors and other health practitioners. It allows them to take immediate action to suspend a doctor in a number of prescribed circumstances. These circumstances are not carefully defined and in fact the laws were amended in 2018 to give the Medical Board wider powers to take action against doctors where it is “in the public interest” to “uphold public confidence in the provision of services of medical practitioners”.
That this law has made it onto Australian law books is concerning. It is a great threat to fundamental freedoms to give far-reaching powers of censure to unaccountable administrative bodies. It is also extremely problematic for laws to provide vague and imprecise grounds such as “the public interest” on which those powers can be exercised.
Often times, the people administering these laws are members of a class of society that is uniform in socio-political viewpoint and part of a privileged administrative class that is so isolated from the “public” that they are least qualified to determine what is in accordance with the public interest.
The biggest threat of these laws is to freedom of speech and its parent. The Tribunal chillingly observed that Dr Jereth has “clear conservative leanings” and he expressed his views strongly. The problematic posts related to abortion, sexuality and transgender issues and there were also suggestions that his posts could be read as supporting violence and racism. The Tribunal considered that there is a risk that Dr Jereth’s convictions on these matters might bleed into his practice. The subtext seems to be that there is a reverse onus on conservative voices to positively prove that their views will not adversely affect their medical practice. This has the effect of silencing alternate points of view and dissenting voices.
Consider some of the comments made by doctors when this story was published in Australian Doctor news;
“‘There is no doubt that Dr Kok… has clear conservative leanings.’ And there you have it folks. What need to we have of due process (or even to release the evidence)? ‘Thought Crime’ is a crime in the Peoples Republic of Victoria!”
“I would comment but not anymore”
“Far to (sic) dangerous to comment. Disgusting result.” “I’ve just committed a ThoughtCrime by reading this.”
Right to a fair trial
A fundamental pillar of the rule of law is the right to due process and a fair trial.
Firstly, The Medical Board decided not to inform Dr Jereth about the complaint against him. This decision not to inform a doctor is usually only where a complainant may be at risk if the complaint is disclosed. In this case the complainant was anonymous. Dr Jereth’s accuser is faceless. The only thing we know is that it is not a patient or anyone who has actually had contact with Dr Jereth except through the internet.
Secondly, by not informing Dr Jereth the Medical Board could spend three months compiling his complete internet history and building its own set of accusations. The Medical Board paid external consultants significant sums to scrape from the internet 2000+ pages of Dr Jereth’s full history of internet posts from which they selected the purportedly offensive content. Dr Jereth had less than two business days to formulate a submission in response. He was given less than a week before he had to appear at the emergency hearing to face a severe sanction. This sanction had been proposed prior to Dr Jereth putting his position.
This approach by the Medical Board significantly prejudices Dr Jereth’s ability to obtain a fair hearing or even to prepare himself properly. Dr Jereth has the right to a fair hearing. It is difficult to see how that has not been compromised by a combination of bad legislation and over-reach by the Medical Board in the way that it has applied that law.
If emergency action was warranted by the Medical Board, it is perplexing that the Medical Board took over three months from receiving the initial complaint to propose abrupt action with such far- reaching consequences.
Cancel Culture promotes destroying someone’s livelihood because of what they say. Speech is not met with speech. Speech is met with cancellation – boycotting, discipline and career threats. Cancel Culture targets the player and not the ball. Generally, this is done through social media campaigns and public backlash supported by complicit media support to cancel a celebrity or an entertainer.
Disturbingly, this modus operandi appears to be making its way into law and the rules that govern professions. In Dr Jereth’s case, the anonymous complainer(s) could have engaged with Dr Jereth’s ideas instead of complaining. They did not. The best way to respond to bad ideas is with good ideas. This allows viewpoint diversity and prevents bad ideas from becoming orthodoxy simply because those who have other ideas are erased. The complainants did not engage with ideas but instead chose to attack Dr Jereth’s career. The Medical Board has decided to enthusiastically take up those complaints and to use the full extent of powers to suspend Dr Jereth.
It is also clear that the Covid-19 crisis has not quarantined this administrative urge towards cancel culture. The Tribunal in review acknowledges that there is a public interest for doctors to be able to practice, particularly “in the current health climate where it is readily foreseeable that health services may be stretched to their capacity”. It matters not that we are in a world medical emergency not seen for a century and that Dr Jereth has never had a clinical complaint. Dr Jereth’s career is cancelled. He cannot practice medicine. He cannot contribute to the fight against the coronavirus, not because of any shortcoming of his practice, but because of the risk that his opinions mightbleed into his practice.
This heavy-handed approach by the Medical Board, now confirmed in the Tribunal decision, is concerning for those who cherish freedom and the right to a fair trial. The use of draconian emergency powers by a bureaucratic body based solely on a person’s ideas gives cause for great apprehension. In the present coronavirus crisis, we can see that cancel culture is not quarantined to our universities and arts communities, but it is now being used against our doctors and enforced by ourtribunals.
A well-respected GP was stood down from medical practice last year over sharing Christian beliefs online.
The married father of two who posted pro-life, pro-traditional marriage and transgenderism-critical views on his personal Facebook page and Christian websites has been forced to live from savings and the generosity of friends after his licence to practice was suspended indefinitely.
Dr Jereth Kok, a general practitioner, was suspended indefinitely in August 2019 after the Medical Board of Australia concluded an investigation questioning whether he had provided sub-standard care to LGBT people.
There have been no formal complaints about Jereth's treatment of patients in his 11 years as a GP.
The VCAT decision states: “No evidence was placed before us to show that in his actual practice Dr Kok has not endeavoured to protect and promote the health of individuals and the wider community. No evidence was placed before us to show that when consulting with his patients, Dr Kok does compromise their best interests.”
In a bizarre twist, the complaints were made by unknown identities which the Board did not reveal to Jereth.
The Medical Board paid a company to compile a dossier, containing thousands of pages of material from online posts he made in the last 10 years.
The Human Rights Law Alliance responded on Jereth’s behalf stating he had not failed to provide professional medical care to anyone and that he had a right to express his beliefs.
This is not the first time this has happened. At least half a dozen pro-traditional marriage or pro-life doctors have faced persecution from the Medical Board of Australia since 2017.
FamilyVoice Australia is appalled by a Queensland parliamentary recommendation to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide when many Australians are experiencing severe anxiety during the corona pandemic.
“While euthanasia and assisted suicide are never appropriate policies they are especially appalling when Australians are experiencing severe anxiety during the corona pandemic,” said FamilyVoice spokesman David d’Lima.
“The Queensland parliamentary committee has foolishly recommended suicide should be available to people facing depression or anxiety – as if they are unfit to manage those conditions.
“Millions of Australians are vulnerable to sickness and economic ruin, while Queensland Labor politicians are effectively endorsing suicide.
“Politicians who endorse suicide among the elderly and unwell should hang their heads in shame.”
In last weekend’s Australian Bernard Salt, wrote of the absence of religion in many lives, and that in times of pandemic “It’s almost as if humanity needs a god to take the blame for matters beyond our control.
“But in modern, godless Australia we simply refuse to accept that calamity is random. Someone must be held accountable for our misfortune. And that is where I suspect the narrative will soon shift…It was all so much easier when God could shoulder the blame, forgive our sins and promise a better life.
“Navigating the current crisis could prompt people to rethink their godlessness. It could create heroes of those who show strength and selflessness, and trigger the downfall of others, especially in the political class. Somehow I think we will see all of these outcomes in the coming months.”
The Christian faith is not a fair-weather faith. It still functions in fair weather, but when the economy and the welfare system are humming along, God and the communion of faith seem less relevant.
A crisis squeezes us more tightly than usual and what’s in us will come out eventually. Some people are very self-assured. They are confident that they will rise to the occasion and triumph over adversity. Most of us are not so sure of what will come out of us if we are squeezed hard by financial instability, the demands of social isolation, or God-forbid that we or a loved one succumbed to the virus.
We only discover what people are made of - others and ourselves, under pressure. Frankly this crisis is not what we would choose, but it has chosen us. Some of us will be sensibly heroic. Others will be more anxious and reserved. We may be surprised at ourselves and what we really care about.
One advantage of crisis is that it exposes the true nature of things and people. If there are things that need to be fixed, crisis will demand it. There is much less obfuscation. We see this in our parliaments. In crisis people have to work together, conflict is a luxury we can’t afford. This is true of the human heart. In times of plenty we may pretend to be someone better than we are. In hard times we must fix what’s broken or perish. There is much to be gained spiritually in a crisis.
In a crisis, the social issues and conflicts that usually occupy the public space, the parliaments and the private space of home and family seem to go to ground. Everyone is too busy staying alive.
We have seen the general public and leaders reacting to those who are not considering others, not observing social distancing or the common good. Crisis permits calling out anti-social behaviour. In good times self-serving attitudes are almost a virtue of politics and economics. In a crisis we learn quite how interdependent we all are and that individualism has its limits.
Some social researchers identify the sense of social responsibility currently required of us all as a residual Christian value. It is as if society still recognizes that selflessness is the right thing to do, even though they may not identify it as an effect of faith or conscience.
Crisis has a very powerful effect on cultural values and behaviour. The political dictum “Don’t’ waste a crisis” holds true for us individually and together. As Bernard Salt suggested, who will become the heroes of this critical time? Who will set a new gold standard for collective citizenship? Already health workers are being praised (and prayed for). Some of our political leaders are providing very significant leadership. Some in the media are keeping the public discourse accountable.
Let’s bring this question home to the family and community level, as churches and Christians re-position themselves to be ‘the un-gathered church.’ In the home and in the church, sensible heroism always starts in our prayers but does not end there.
As we pray for those charged with difficult national decisions, for health-workers, and others services brought into the fray, for the elderly and the vulnerable, for the homeless, for the indigenous communities, for struggling businesses, for those losing work and income, for families and households struggling with diminished income, for those living alone, for those finding the lack of social support very unsettling, for every other human being that crosses our path, “Lord, help us to see them through your eyes.”
Prayer is not an exercise in itself, for making us better people, even though it will do that. It is coming close to God through Christ. It is listening and waiting before speaking out our anxious thoughts. Our prayer depends entirely upon what we know of God. Prayer is what people do when they know it’s time to get beyond the habit of religion. And we may have more time on our hands for a little while.
Prayer will certainly change those of us who pray, but its main purpose is to change the world in which we live. As Jesus prayed: “Your kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.”
My prayer for you as you read this (and for myself) is that when we are through this we will look at our families, friends and neighbours with a deeper appreciation of God’s goodness to us all; that we will not lose the willingness to work together for the common good, that we will not surrender so quickly to self-interest, and that we will find ways to live respectfully with those who are not like us.
Most importantly, that we will have come to know God and choose to maintain the closeness.
By Charles Newington
FamilyVoice Australia upholds Christian values and the family: permanence of marriage, sanctity of human life, primacy of parenthood and limited government.
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