Universities adopt free speech code
All 41 Australian universities now have policies in place to strengthen and protect free speech and academic freedoms on campus, aligning with the model code recommended by the Hon Robert French AC.
The Model Code was a key recommendation of the 2019 Review of Freedom of Speech in Australian Higher Education Providers.
University chancellors have also agreed to publicly report each year on how they are upholding academic freedom and freedom of speech on campus.
The University Chancellors Council (UCC) has formally adopted a template to be used as a basis for regular, transparent reporting on freedom of speech through university annual reports.
Minister for Education and Youth Alan Tudge said the two developments were significant for protecting free speech and academic freedoms for students and academics.
“This has taken two years to get this point, but each university now has policies which specifically protect free speech,” Minister Tudge said.
“If universities are not places for free, robust speech, then their very purpose is jeopardised. You cannot advance knowledge without challenging existing orthodoxies, and risk causing offence in the process.
“Freedom of expression is the most fundamental foundational principle of a university. Academics who don’t believe in free speech, or cannot handle someone challenging their work, should not be at a university.
“This is not going to fix every problem, but it is a very significant step in the right direction.
“Ultimately, what we want to see is viewpoint diversity so that students are challenged with different ideas.”
The French Model Code supports reasonable and proportionate measures to prevent any person from using lawful speech which a reasonable person would regard, in the circumstances, as likely to humiliate or intimidate other persons. However, it does not extend to protecting a person from feeling offended or shocked or insulted by the lawful speech of another.
It is expected universities will start reporting on these issues in their annual reports for 2021.