UWA VC speaks up for free speech but cancels on controversial speaker

Last week the University of Western Australia accepted a venue booking from the Australian Family Association. US paediatrician Quentin van Meter, who argues transgender people are delusional, was scheduled to speak.  Cue campus outrage, with just under 10 000 people signing a petition opposing the event and on Friday, the day of the event, the university cancelled.

This rather reduced the credibility of a previous statement from Chancellor Robert French and VC Dawn Freshwater explaining why the university would allow Dr van Meter to speak on campus. It was closely-argued and well written, Mr French being a former chief justice of the High Court probably had something to with that, setting out the university’s competing obligations, to “create a trans-friendly culture, free from discrimination and harassment” and “the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”

“There is an ongoing task to be undertaken within the university about the development of workable principles which strike a balance between the values of respect for human dignity on the one hand and freedom of opinion and expression on the other,” they said.

However, this was followed by another message, just from the vice chancellor, explaining the booking was cancelled because the hirers had not submitted “a risk assessment and detailed event management plan.”

“The university holds firm on the principles of freedom of expression and maintains its position that it does not wish to set a precedent for the exclusion of objectionable views from the campus. However, in this case the event hirers could not meet their obligations of the venue hire contract, providing no confidence that UWA could ensure safety on campus.”

Professor Freshwater announced the booking was cancelled ahead of a planned Friday afternoon student protest.

In 2015 then UWA vice chancellor Paul Johnson abandoned a proposal to establish a federally funded research centre, led by controversial political scientist and environmental economics commentator Bjorn Lomborg,  following staff protests (CMM May 11 2015).


to get daily updates on what's happening in the world of Australian Higher Education