We believe that our joint recommendations will allow the Australian Government to truly put “regional and rural students at the centre of [their] focus” (Dan Tehan, 2020 Universities Australia Conference). Our submission particularly focuses on students in/from RRR communities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and regional university students. Our recommendations may be summarised as follows:
The proposed Amendments replace the Act’s previous wording relating to freedom of intellectual inquiry with references to “freedom of speech and academic freedom”, as well as providing a definition of academic freedom.
It is CAPA’s view that these changes are unnecessary, due to the absence of the particular free speech crisis suggested by the Amendments. We instead argue that the defunding of universities, their casualisation, and the lack of guaranteed funds for most student organisations has a significant impact on freedom of inquiry and study and work conditions. Our recommendations are therefore as follows:
Recommendation one: That the Higher Education Support Act 2003 (HESA) not be amended as proposed.
Recommendation two: That, if the Act is amended, the ordering be changed such that equitable treatment and wellbeing of students and staff be placed prior to freedom of speech. Recommendation three: That, if the Act is amended, the phrase “freedom of speech” be replaced with “freedom of political speech”.
Recommendation four: That, if the Act is amended, the phrase “teaching, learning, and research” be retained.
Recommendation five: That, if a sector-wide code of conduct is implemented, it must be compliant with legislation including the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, and must not contravene universities’ obligations to provide a safe working environment.
Recommendation six: That the government must restore higher education and research funding that has been cut over the last several years. Recommendation seven: That universities must end insecure employment practices, providing the security for their researchers to investigate new, controversial, or uncertain topics.
Recommendation eight: That legislation should be enacted to prevent government interference, politicisation, and mandate transparency in federal research funding allocations and awards.
Recommendation nine: That policies should be in place to ensure all students (undergraduates, postgraduates, and internationals) pay SSAF and that a minimum of 50% SSAF goes to student associations/unions. The proportion given to independent undergraduate and postgraduate associations should be based on the FTE proportion of students enrolled. Policies should also be implemented to ensure a national standard for annual SSAF reporting for all public Australian Universities.
CAPA & NATSIPA recommend the Religious Freedom Bills be rejected
The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) expresses serious concern about the implications of the Morrison Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill. National Queer Officer, Shae Brown summarises CAPA’s position, “We represent the postgraduate students of our affiliates across Australia, and this Bill is poised to legislate the right to discriminate against all minorities, or in fact anyone, based on a ‘statement of belief’. This Bill is particularly concerning for LGBTQ students.”
Currently in its second draft, the Religious Discrimination Bill is set to be reconsidered and presented to Parliament in 2020. In essence it overrides all Commonwealth, State and Territory anti-discrimination laws, including the Fair Work Act and the Anti-Discrimination Act. This Bill removes the rights of people to be protected if they are verbally abused or discriminated against in any way, if the abuser claims to be making a ‘religious statement of belief.’ What is deemed to be discrimination at present will be given a free rein if this Bill is passed.
Students’ rights are threatened in a range of ways. According to the Public Interest Advocacy Centre these are some examples of how this Bill can affect students:
“This Bill will undoubtedly generate tensions and divisions among people, and has the potential to open the way for a range of discriminatory decisions and actions” stated Shae Brown. “Students can be refused accommodation, have problems with placements and practicums within institutions that are connected to religious organisations, and a range of issues that we cannot even predict based on the vague and broad nature of the wording of this Bill.”
”As Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students, we face discrimination in the classroom everyday. This Bill would only exacerbate the existing racism and continue the denial of our culture and spirituality. The privileging and prioritising of Eurocentric settler colonial ways of being, specifically as it relates to the Abrahamic religious beliefs and practices will only centre Western ways at the expense of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Knowledge, cultural and spirituality systems.” says Robyn Oxley, NATSIPA Queer Officer.
“CAPA is concerned about this legislation, and we will encourage Postgraduate Associations to request a statement of position from their university executive. If this Bill is passed, CAPA will be calling on Vice Chancellors to take clear and ethical leadership in ensuring that all students are protected from both overt and covert discrimination”, says National President Romana Begicevic.
CAPA National President Romana-Rea Begicevic
M: 0414 792 540