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MEDIA RELEASE: Culture wars provoked with Tehan’s pointless free speech review, says CAPA

14 Nov 18

Culture wars provoked with Tehan’s pointless free speech review, says CAPA

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is perplexed that the Minister for Education, Dan Tehan, has ordered a review into free speech at university campuses.

We are concerned that conservative commentators have stirred an uproar over a non-issue in order to attack universities. One would think that the Government has learnt its lesson in not listening to the bleatings of a loud and unrepresentative few. However, Minister Tehan has legitimised the false narrative of attacks on free speech by ordering an enquiry.

There is no threat to free speech on university campuses. Universities are traditionally a place of robust discourse and radical thought. In recent months, student protesters speaking out against views they disagree with have been characterised as attacks on free speech.

CAPA strongly believes in the right of students to organise and express their views. We disagree that this type of expression is preventing free speech of more conservative views; rather, it is a way of engaging and arguing against these views.

For example, in August, students at the University of Western Australia argued against the views of a prominent speaker they criticised for being transphobic. In articulating why they believed the views to be damaging and outdated, they exercised their right to free speech. The university eventually cancelled the venue booked for the event (citing a failure of organisers to provide the necessary paperwork) which does not prevent the event being held elsewhere. However, this is the type of discourse which commentators have pointed to as being examples of challenges to free speech.

Similar panics about suppression of conservative viewpoints have recently occurred in England and the United States, despite a stunning lack of evidence for there being a problem. It is concerning that Minister Tehan is leading Australia to follow into the culture wars.

“The review is contrived, pointless, and a total waste of taxpayer money at a time when students and universities are being told to do their bit for ‘budget repair’,” says CAPA National President, Natasha Abrahams.

“Like many of the Government’s recent actions in higher education policy and funding, this review is emblematic of their increasingly blatant disdain for education and research in Australia.”

Furthermore, this review comes just weeks after it was revealed that the former Minister for Education secretly vetoed eleven humanities and social sciences projects which had been awarded funding by the Australian Research Council. If the Government is concerned about free speech in universities, we suggest that they first examine their own clandestine actions designed to constrain intellectual inquiry.

For comment:
CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams
M: 0430 076 993