Policy Submissions

Submission to Review of Freedom of Speech in Australian Higher Education

20 Jan 19

Download – CAPA freedom of speech review submission

In this submission, we first provide our perspective on the context of the review, arguing that claims towards a crisis of freedom of speech are contrived and politically motivated. However, being that the review is underway, we provide our perspective on tensions relating to freedom of speech on campus. We argue that staff working conditions are threatened by the presence of hate speech, and that any sector-wide code of conduct relating to free speech must ensure that staff workplace rights are preserved. We comment on existing legislation relating to this, noting that the legislation itself is suitable, but that there are some genuine threats to intellectual freedom at universities owing to cuts to research and services due to severe federal funding reductions. We furthermore caution that secret ministerial interference in research funding allocations, as was discovered in late 2018, also endangers intellectual freedom.

Based on the above, we provide the following recommendations:

  • That universities retain the right to decide whether to host speakers who are not students or staff at their university, who lack academic legitimacy, and who promote viewpoints which threaten the safety of their staff and students.
  • That a sector-wide code of conduct not be adopted, and that universities set their own freedom of speech policies which are compliant with legislation.
  • 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 on universities’ obligations to provide a safe working environment.
  • That the government must restore higher education and research funding which has been cut over the last several years.
  • That universities must end insecure employment practices, providing the security for their researchers to investigate controversial or uncertain topics.
  • That legislation should be enacted to prevent government interference, and mandate transparency, in federal research funding allocations.