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.