By Tanya Plibersek

07 August 2020



SUBJECT: Universities.
ALAN JONES, HOST: Well, let's go to the panel and we've got Tanya Plibersek back. We missed her last week, the former deputy leader of the Labor Party. If you can forget political biases, I'm telling you this woman has real ability. So does the lady on the other side, the Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker from Queensland. She should be in the ministry. Though, I'm not too sure if in politics talent always enjoys its rewards. Tanya away from all this and to you first. Last night, I raised this question about free speech. The University of New South Wales published the views of one of it's adjunct lecturers on its website last Friday - Elaine Pearson, who is also the Australian Director of Human Rights Watch and she called for UN Special Envoy to be appointed to monitor human rights in Hong Kong following the restrictive National Security Law imposed by China, as you know, last month. Now the University tweeted the comment on its main Twitter account. There was a furious reaction from China through its state mouthpiece 'The Global Times' newspaper and here, there was orchestrated social media posts here and back home. So, on Saturday, and my question Tanya, the University of New South Wales dedicated to free speech deleted the Tweet. You're a senior political figure in this country Tanya. Can anything be more important than the denial of the right of this academic to express a forthright view?
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Well, I know Elaine Pearson well and I would always be interested in reading her views on human rights, she's a very distinguished commentator in this area. And Alan, you know my views on universities, it's absolutely critical that at universities we have open debate and disagreement. We need to be able to disagree. It's part of the reason that universities exist in the way they do. Academic freedom, academic debate, we don't have to agree with each other. We have to learn to disagree politely but strong robust debate is what makes our universities tick. 
JONES: Well, Tanya I mean, you're the Shadow Minister, I know, for Education. Can I come to you Amanda? Why should outfits like the University of New South Wales, and I've got hundreds of emails about this, why should they be funded by the taxpayer without an explicit statutory commitment to protect free speech.
AMANDA STOKER, SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: Universities should be the absolute standard bearers of free speech and intellectual freedom because without them they don't serve their purpose. But we actually don't need a statutory protection because if you have a look at the funding agreement between the Commonwealth Government and the universities, the document, the contract between them that sets out the terms on which they get their funding, there is a provision that says they must protect intellectual freedom so...
JONES: Okay. 
STOKER: I've taken this to estimates before and said well if you're not protecting free speech, you're not entitled to the support of the taxpayer.
JONES: Well, have you said that in the party room? I mean Dan Tehan continues to provide money to the University of New South Wales and the University of Queensland. So where is the Federal Government on this issue in relation to funding?
STOKER: Well, I'm of the view that they just don't maintain their mandate if they aren't prepared to fight in a meaningful way for free speech and intellectual freedom. They aren't doing the job of equipping students for the real world.
JONES: But Amanda, they're getting the money. Your Government continues to give them the money. You're telling me they're in breach of the contract. Why should they get the money if they are depriving students or lecturers of the right to free speech? I don't understand. 
STOKER: Well, I think we're on the path of holding them to account in a way that we never have before. Remember, It was under Dan Tehan, with the forceful advocacy of people like me, that we ended up getting a commitment from the universities to free speech for the first time ever. We are on the path to making the case. 
JONES: Amanda I haven't heard a sentence from Dan Tehan on this. Tanya, I haven't heard a sentence from the Government, from the Prime Minister down. I mean, you've got this young 21 year old in Brisbane, Drew Pavlou expelled from the university basically because of his vocal criticism of the Chinese influence at Queensland university. I haven't heard anyone in Government get into the ring to support this young man. Tanya.
PLIBERSEK: Well Alan, it's a bit hard when the legal case is ongoing and I believe that case is going to the High Court. The Government did ask Justice French to look at the issue of free speech at universities and what Justice French found was that there wasn't a systemic problem. Where there are problems, I think it's important that the Government is very clear with universities that the expectation is that there is support for free speech. But Alan, can I can I raise another issue with you on universities? I mean parents aren't generally stopping me in the street talking about what Elaine Pearson's got on Twitter. What they're saying is a hundred thousand young people joined the unemployment queue between April and May this year and this government's made it harder to get into university. They've made it harder to get a place and they've made it more expensive if you do get a place. And when unemployment is what it is, we can't afford to leave kids on the dole queue instead of getting an education whether it’s TAFE or university. 
JONES: Okay, I'll tell you what. I promise you we'll start there next week. We'll start there. I agree with you.
PLIBERSEK: Okay, that's wonderful. Thanks Alan. Especially unemployment. Thank you. 
JONES: Yeah, big issue. Thank you to both of you. I mean, very smart lady, you're the hope of the side, both of you. But, I just hope someone gets into the ring in relation to this denial of free speech. But, we will come back to that point next week Tanya. It's a very valid point.