Union demands legislation to protect uni staff free speech

The National Tertiary Education Union says the Robert French proposed model code is not enough

The NTEU has intervened in the campus free speech debate to urge the government to legislate, saying “academic freedoms must be defined in law.”
“The right to speak without fear or favour in a place of higher learning is important for our democracy,” NTEU general secretary Matthew McGowan says.
Mr McGowan adds the voluntary campus free speech code and changes to legislation proposed by former chief justice Robert French are not sufficient. “If we are serious about academic freedom, a voluntary code is not good enough, and unless staff have workplace protections in their collective agreements, changes to legislation will not guarantee freedoms.”

The NTEU national executive also calls on the federal government; “to implement the recommendation to amend the existing Higher Education Support Act and the Higher Education Standards to incorporate the definition of academic freedom set out by Justice French, and the recommendation to require all higher education providers to have a policy that upholds freedom of speech and academic freedom.”

The union also calls on Universities Australia to negotiate with it on a statement of “rights and obligations” of universities and staff on academic and intellectual freedom for incorporation into enterprise agreements.

In April, the Federal Court rejected James Cook U’s attempt to dismiss Peter Ridd over outspoken criticism of research at the university. Justice Vasta found Dr Ridd’s statements were covered by clause 14 of JCU’s enterprise agreement.  (CMM April 18).

“The NTEU strenuously defends the rights of members who exercise academic and intellectual freedom, including in cases where these individuals have expressed unpopular views, and notes that freedom of speech includes the right to protest, the union states.


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