Turnbull tells it like it is: the PM talks of university achievements and academic independence

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pitched it strong to academics in his audience for a speech at UNSW yesterday; “Australia’s ability to capitalise on the opportunities of this region depends on strong links to the region. The education sector has the capacity to influence this like few other industries. Look around yourselves. In this room, you see a small group, a sample if you like, of an enormous engagement and collaboration with our region, that has enabled us to grow and prosper and deliver benefits right across the region, for ourselves and our neighbours, underpinning the peace, the security and the prosperity that we all aspire to.”

With China’s ambassador Cheng Jingye and consul general in Sydney, Gu Xiaojie, in the audience the prime minister also talked of Australia-China ties in education and infrastructure, trade and tourism and UNSW research achievements in solar power, picked up by Chinese entrepreneurs.

It was a carefully constructed address which gave the Chinese officials who will forensically analyse it plenty to work with.

Especially the end, which appears intended for both the academics and Chinese officials who take a close interest in politics in Australia. “I have every confidence that you, our teachers and researchers, will step up your pursuit of excellence and in doing so reaffirm your independence and commitment to the values of academic freedom. Because that as vice-chancellor (Ian Jacobs) flagged at the outset, is really your greatest and most valuable currency.”

The lobbies loved it: “It is heartening to see the Prime Minister recognise the important and fundamental role our universities play in developing meaningful ties that benefit all of us both at home and abroad,” Universities Australia CEO Catriona Jackson said. “

“It was pleasing to hear the Prime Minister assert the importance of maintaining a strong working relationship with our regional neighbours, including China.   “China is obviously an important regional partner, with whom Australia is perfectly capable of working with in a constructive, collaborative way, despite our differences,” the Group of Eight’s Vicki Thomson said.


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