Government readying to ramp-up rules on campus free speech

Amendments to legislation and regulation on the agenda

Education Minister Dan Tehan will consider changes to legislation in-line with recommendations by former chief justice Robert French in his review of campus free speech.

Mr French proposed universities adopt a model code but also substantially suggested amendments to the Higher Education Support Act and the HE Standards, “to distinguish freedom of speech and academic freedom and to define academic freedom by reference to generally accepted elements.”

The Department of Education is advising Mr Tehan on changes to the act and the Higher Education Standards Panel is investigating changes to the wording of the HE Standards Framework.

Changes proposed are believed to be:

* replacing “freedom of intellectual inquiry” with “freedom of speech and academic freedom” in Part A, 6.1.4 of the Standards so it would read,

“the governing body takes steps to develop and maintain an institutional environment in which freedom of speech and academic freedom is upheld and protected …”

* deleting “free intellectual inquiry in its academic endeavours” from Part B, B1.1 of the Standards, so the standard states, “the higher education provider has a clearly articulated higher education process that includes a commitment to and support for freedom of speech and academic freedom.”

Adopting such changes would increase the regulatory authority of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency over how universities manage free speech issues on campus.

News the government is considering legislative intervention follows a story in The Australian newspaper on Tuesday, stating chancellors are in favour of universities adopting the model free speech code, regardless of the views of Universities Australia, which consists of vice chancellors.

Last night Universities Australia CEO Catriona Jackson responded;

“While it would improper to discuss the content of meetings, university leaders and governing bodies are as one in their abiding commitment to freedom of expression and academic freedom. When the minister wrote to universities in April, he urged universities to give full and careful consideration to the 300-page report. And that is what is they are doing. Across the sector, there are at least 100 policies, codes and agreements that support free intellectual inquiry and freedom of speech. Synthesising a proposed model code with this complex array of institutional policies— while complying with laws that govern hate speech, discrimination and defamation— needs careful thought and takes time to do properly.”

The government may have just made the process easier.


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