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Amendments: Higher Education Support (Freedom of Speech) Bill 2020

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 15 Mar 2021

Include the Commonwealth government in the legislation

The Greens support this amendment. The freedom to express opinions with respect to the Commonwealth government is really important. Staff and students should be free to criticise the government without fear of repercussions or adverse action.

But this government really doesn't want anyone to speak up. This government, when it comes to its members, wants everyone to shut up. They don't want anyone to hold them accountable. If we had any doubts about that, we need to look no further than the last three weeks, when all this government has been doing is cover-ups, silencing people and obfuscating since the allegations of rape and sexual assault were made.

As I said in my contribution to the second reading debate on this specific bill, some of the most powerful civil rights movements of our time included university staff and students who were critical of government policies and government positions on the level of government responsibility for funding and regulating higher education. From time to time university staff and students may have strong opinions about the Commonwealth as those opinions relate to their particular issues or, really, any issue that's happening in the country. They have the right to express and voice their opinions about the Commonwealth.



Include all staff engaging in academic activity in the legislation

By leave—I move Greens amendments (1) to (4) on sheet 1127 together:

(1) Schedule 1, item 4, page 3 (line 16), omit "academic staff", substitute "staff engaged in academic activities".

(2) Schedule 1, item 4, page 3 (line 18), omit "academic staff", substitute "staff engaged in academic activities".

(3) Schedule 1, item 4, page 3 (line 22), omit "academic staff", substitute "staff engaged in academic activities".

(4) Schedule 1, item 4, page 3 (line 25), omit "academic staff", substitute "staff engaged in academic activities".

I foreshadowed these amendments in my speech in the second reading debate. These amendments will ensure that the academic freedom provisions apply not only to those university workers who are considered academic staff but to those across the institution who may undertake academic activities, including teaching, scholarship and research.

As I said in my speech on the second reading, at a modern university much academic work is undertaken by others in the university system who may not be classified as or considered academic staff. They can include research assistants and other professional staff who may from time to time deliver lectures, engage in research or otherwise contribute to the academic activities of the institution. These amendments will extend the academic freedom provisions to more people doing academic work on our campuses and not necessarily confine their operation to a limited cohort of university workers. I commend the amendments to the Senate.



Uphold freedom of speech through enterprise agreements

The Greens are supportive of strong enterprise bargaining agreements developed with higher education workers and their unions. We are supportive of enterprise agreements that clearly protect academic freedom. But we are not supporting this amendment. Any legislative steps to ensure that academic freedom is incorporated into enterprise agreements should be treated with sensitivity and must be carefully considered before being brought into parliament.

This amendment was circulated just a few hours ago. As far as I know, Senator Roberts has not even consulted the National Tertiary Education Union about the implications of this amendment. Moreover, there is a clear need so far, Senator Roberts, as it relates to enterprise agreements, to distinguish academic freedom provisions from broader protections with respect to freedom of speech, and this amendment does not do that.


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