Bread and circuses anyone?

December 19, 2018

A month ago, the Morrison government announced a review of free speech on university campuses with Former High Court judge Robert French given four months to assess the effectiveness of current policies and procedures and to develop a code that the government can use as a benchmark to measure university performance.

The Conservative Party welcomed the review as it seemed an important development in securing and promoting free speech on campus.

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Janet Albrechtsen writes in today's The Australian

"Sounds terrific. Except that the government seems to think that political revival starts and ends with a front-page story in a newspaper.

All the signs point to another stunt with no policy conviction to secure its success. There is little scaffolding around the review, no website, no provision for submissions from interested parties.

The federal Education Department has approached human rights activists at Amnesty for a submission. The Institute of Public Affairs, a research-based think tank that has done more work on free speech than any other group in Australia, hasn’t been contacted. We had to search for a departmental email address.

As a director of the IPA and a columnist, I rang the Education Minister to understand whether the government is serious about this review.

Is his department seeking submissions from people who know about free speech on campus? Or those who have suffered first-hand from curbs on free speech? A week later, still no response.

Tehan’s department has not sought a submission from the most recent high-profile victim of free speech process that has gone awry on campus.

Peter Ridd was sacked in May by James Cook University after he made some public statements challenging the quality of science that claimed the Great Barrier Reef was being damaged. Ridd told The Australian last Friday that he was surprised he wasn’t contacted. “Maybe they want to do (the review) on the cheap,” he said.

The quietly spoken professor of physics has taken the initiative, sending a submission to the French review on Friday, setting out the facts of his dismissal and explaining the dilemma.

“If only one in 1000 academics is prevented from speaking their mind, this might be the academic with the revolutionary idea that society needs to hear,” Ridd writes in his submission.

It is, he adds, “one of the reasons that we have universities in the first place”.

The current state of the government is summed up by this review. It has all the hallmarks of a sweet-sounding project that delivers nothing real.

It is a further indictment that this is happening under Tehan, who is meant to be one of a few conservative warriors among a lacklustre lot of Liberal MPs.

At year end, the government is the political equivalent of a wobbling dish of blancmange, held together with lashings of sugar and gelatine rather than serious policy ingredients that will improve the nation’s health. If 2019 brings more bread and circuses, the Coali­tion government deserves to lose to a Labor Party led by an inconsequential and insincere Bill Shorten."

To read Janet Albrechtsen's full article, click here.

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