Release type: Transcript

Date:

Sky News Live interview with Paul Murray

Ministers:

The Hon Alan Tudge MP
Minister for Education and Youth

14 October 2021

Subjects: University freedom of speech codes, IBAC inquiry

PAUL MURRAY:

Now, Alan Tudge is the Education Minister and he got a big win when it came to free speech on our universities. Every university in the country has now signed up to a free speech code. Here he is explaining it. 
 

ALAN TUDGE:

Yeah, so this is a big development. We’ve been working on this for a couple of years, where we’ve developed a free speech code, which was assisted in that development by the former Chief Justice, Robert French, and then we asked each of the universities to adopt it. And in essence, that code becomes a paramount code above all others and it protects freedom of speech. Not entirely - you can’t humiliate, for example, a person or intimidate a person through your speech, but it certainly protects speech which may inadvertently insult or offend or shock a person. Because at the end of the day, if you’re challenging somebody's idea, you obviously risk offending them or insulting them by virtue of you challenging them. But you can't get knowledge creation unless you do, in fact, challenge those ideas. This is a really important principle and I'm very pleased they’ve all finally adopted it. 

PAUL MURRAY:

So if there's ever a moment when two people get into a dispute, under this system, how is it settled? 

ALAN TUDGE:

It's still through an internal university process, and this will be a code which the university develops. It will have a mechanism whereby they can go to the university and, for example, say that a person has intimidated me or humiliated them, and then it’ll go through an ordinary process. On the other hand, though, if that language was just, you know, a shy retiring person who just felt a bit offended because someone challenged his or her work, then bad luck. That code protects that type of free speech, and that’s particularly important at a university where you need to have that robust exchange of ideas where, indeed, you may risk offending such a person.

PAUL MURRAY:

Now, Minister, I want to get your response to the High Court decision. It ruled in favour of JCU in being able to sack Peter Ridd, but the court seemed to criticise the university for some of the language that they used in sanctioning the professor. 

ALAN TUDGE:

Yeah, I obviously respect the decision of the High Court. I'm disappointed with the outcome. My main conclusion, Paul, is that I'm just astounded and just disappointed that it came all the way to the High Court. You know, why is it in today's day and age you've got an academic from a university, an unknown person really in the public sphere up until this point, up against the university in the highest court of the land. It should never have come to this. 

And this is not the only example where we've had debates over freedom of speech. We have lots of examples whereby universities have tried to crack down on some of their staff for things which they said which they just simply did not agree with. The whole idea of a university is to have robust exchanges of ideas, because you can't create knowledge unless you are challenging existing orthodoxies. And so, fundamentally, I'm disappointed that it came all the way to the High Court, and I'm also, of course, disappointed with the outcome, but respect that outcome also.

PAUL MURRAY:

Now let's get to IBAC. You're a passionate Victorian and it is extraordinary what's happening there. Today we learnt that the Federal Deputy Leader of the Labor Party went to some of these dodgy fundraisers where they were raising money to, essentially, buy memberships. This is the second time a Labor figure from Victoria has been named. Can Marles get away with the, I didn't know where the money was going, defence?

ALAN TUDGE:

I don't think he can. What we heard a couple of days ago from Anthony Byrne, Paul, is that this was systematic across the Victorian Labor Party, both federal and state. Wasn't a one off, wasn't just an isolated instance with Anthony Byrne - it was systematic across the board. And hence I believe that Richard Marles knew exactly what was going on, and I believe that Anthony Albanese would have known exactly what was going on inside the Victorian division of the Labor Party - it's rotten to the core. I think it's incumbent upon Anthony Albanese to show leadership and actually explain, when did he find out about this? What will he do in relation to this? Because this was a systematic abuse of Commonwealth resources and it should not be tolerated. 

PAUL MURRAY:

And speaking of Anthony Albanese, he said that Christian Porter had to leave the parliament despite the fact he had not broken the law. Yet, when it comes to Byrne, and he's admitted to doing so, oh, we have to wait for the outcome of an inquiry. What does it say to you about the standard that he is willing to walk past? 

ALAN TUDGE:

Well, I think that's right. We're not, in some respects, waiting for a conclusion from IBAC in this regard, because Anthony Byrne, as you said, admitted to doing exactly that. It's not in debate. He's admitted to effectively misusing Commonwealth resources. So now it's up to Anthony Albanese to make a decision in relation to him and his positions, and he needs to show that leadership and also needs to come clean as to when exactly he did know about this. I think everybody else within the Victorian Labor Party knew about what was going on and I find it very difficult to believe that Anthony Albanese wouldn't have also known about exactly what was going on.