Free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs has welcomed the introduction of the Higher Education Support Amendment (Freedom of Speech) Bill 2020 into the House of Representatives, which introduces a definition of academic freedom into legislation in line with the recommendations by former High Court Chief Justice the Hon Robert French AC.
“The Federal Court decision upholding the ability of James Cook University to sack Peter Ridd for exercising his freedom of speech on climate change reveals academic freedom is not protected in Australia. Education Minister Dan Tehan has shown leadership in stepping in to guarantee freedom of intellectual enquiry,” said Gideon Rozner, Director of Policy at the IPA.
As Education Minister Dan Tehan told Sky News this morning: “[James Cook University] wouldn’t have been able to prosecute Peter Ridd if these laws had of been in place.”
“By defining academic freedom in legislation, Education Minister Dan Tehan is ensuring the dismissal of an academic like Peter Ridd can never happen again,” said Mr Rozner.
In 2019 an IPA-commissioned survey of 500 domestic university students found:
- 41% of students felt they were sometimes unable to express their opinion at university
- 31% of students had been made to feel uncomfortable by a university teacher for expressing an opinion
- 59% of students believed they were sometimes prevented from voicing their opinion on controversial issues by other students.
“The cases of Peter Ridd at James Cook University, Drew Pavlou at the University of Queensland and pressure on academics across the country on policy matters related to China have highlighted without doubt that there is a free speech crisis at Australian universities.”
“This bill goes to the core mission of universities for both its staff and students, which is to engage in free intellectual inquiry via free and open debate,” said Mr Rozner.