The Australian Senate debated a motion on the IPA’s new report The Rise of Identity Politics: History in Australian Universities, written by Dr Bella d’Abrera, this afternoon.
The motion, proposed by Senator Cory Bernardi, commended the research; expressed concern about the rise of identity politics and the lack of teaching about Western Civilisation, the Enlightenment and Reformation; and called for the Australian Government to review the history curriculum.
Senator Bernardi moved the motion, referring to the ‘magnificent Institute of Public Affairs’, which was followed by a short statement by Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, Senator James McGrath.
‘The Government welcomes the Institute of Public Affairs’ report as an important contribution to the public discussion on universities as places of learning, free speech and ideas,’ Senator McGrath said.
However, the Government subsequently voted against the motion on the basis that it is not the government’s role to interfere with university teaching. ‘The Government does not set the curriculum for universities and it would be an attack on academic integrity were a government in a liberal democracy to control what is taught at universities,’ Senator McGrath continued.
The Senate divided on the motion, with 6 in favour and 41 against.
Senator McGrath is correct that it is not the government’s role to set the curriculum. Nor is the IPA seeking to dictate to professors what they should teach in class.
The purpose of Dr d’Abrera’s report is to highlight the relative imbalance in focus of Australia’s history departments, an important issue of public concern considering the billions of dollars of taxpayer funding that universities receive and their important role in public debate. Dr d’Abrera found that while there are a plethora of topics on identity politics issues, including class, race and gender, there is a lack of teaching of Australia’s core history. A fully rounded history degree should provide students with the opportunity to hear a diversity of topics and perspectives. As it stands, universities are failing in this task.
Senator McGrath pointed to the role of the Tertiary Education Standards Agency (TEQSA) to uphold university standards. As it stands, TEQSA enforces substantial red tape to the entry of new, smaller and more specialised institutions.
Dr d’Abrera found that it is just this type of an institution, Campion College, Australia’s first and only liberal arts college that is just a decade old, that is teaching the twenty ‘Essential Core Topics in History of Western Civilisation’.
While the government should not be setting curriculums, they should be facilitating an environment which encourages student choice and a diversity of viewpoints on campus. As the IPA’s previous research on university speech codes has found, there are some serious institutional issues that must be addressed to improve the state of higher learning in Australia.
While it is disappointing that the government rejected the motion, albeit for understandable reasons, it does have an important role to play, as the regulator and funder of universities, to improve the state of intellectual freedom in Australia.