Queensland MPs: cross one day, cross the next

Coalition backbencher George Christensen tells James Cook U that he “will actively oppose” any requests it makes for federal funding. He’s the second MP this week to sail into a Queensland university

Why this happened: Mr Christensen (LNP) responded on Facebook yesterday to the full bench of the Federal Court allowing James Cook U’s appeal against a judgement that it should not have sacked scientist Peter Ridd.

Last year Judge Vasta found Dr Ridd’s vigorous criticisms of research at JCU were covered by the university enterprise agreement that then applied and which accordingly protected him from dismissal for breaching the university’s code of conduct, (CMM April 17, 18 and May 30 2019). But this week the full bench rejected this.

Mr Christensen, who represents the seat of federal seat of Dawson, adjacent to JCU’s Townsville campus. yesterday called on JCU to reinstate Dr Ridd. Mr Christensen shares Dr Ridd’s scepticism of scientific research that concludes the Great Barrier Reef is in an extremely poor state.

 What it followed: On Wednesday, independent MP for the Queensland seat of Kennedy Bob Katter called for a “full-bloodedparliamentary inquiry into Chinese Government influence in Australian universities. He singled out Uni Queensland’s misconduct investigation and findings against undergraduate Drew Pavlou. Mr Pavlou is an outspoken advocate of human rights in China and fierce critic of the university’s links with the Chinese Government.

And why both matter: Connections between Australian universities and the Chinese state attract critical attention, in ways they did not a few years back. And there are coalition MPs and senators who believe free speech is not always protected on campuses – which may be a reason why Education Minister Dan Tehan established the French review.

It isn’t great for any individual university to become a specific target for criticism on either broad issue.

And both these MPs can be specific in what they criticise. Yesterday Mr Christensen said he “would strongly back” the other north Queensland university, CQU, “which is a strong supporter of academic freedom.”  Mr Katter has also favourably compared it with James Cook U, (CMM April 30 2019).