Universities rethink policies to protect free speech

October 08, 2018

In a move welcomed by the Conservative Party, universities across Australia are revisiting their freedom-of-speech policies as they grapple with new protest tactics that can effectively drown out contentious speakers and have derailed some events.

The University of Western Australia (pictured) was recently forced to cancel a speech by American transgender sceptic Quentin Van Meter after protesters’ threats. UWA vice-chancellor Dawn Freshwater said the university was now developing its own freedom-of-expression statement.

“That event was an opportunity to really have the debate,” she said. “We’re taking a line on this and working extremely hard to make sure we’re very clear about this.” The university adamantly upheld freedom of speech and welcomed different views, she added.

Feminist Germaine Greer, whose recent comments on rape stirred controversy, had been invited to speak at the university next month.

Western Sydney University vice-chancellor Barney Glover said his university senate was considering the university’s freedom-of-speech statement in light of the current debate.

“We’ve had a range of examples of quite challenging circumstances on Australian university campuses which touch on issues around freedom of speech,’’ he said.

The Australian reported yesterday that WSU chancellor Peter Shergold, and Australian National University chancellor Gareth Evans said universities should be prepared to make tough decisions to protect free speech.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan recently mooted the idea of charging protesters for the cost of extra security necessitated by their protests.

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