Freedom of speech proposal endorsed

Australian Conservatives Release

The Australian reports, the move in universities is intended to counter the risk of “overreach” by university administrators and aims to restrain the use of broadly phrased rules to stifle opinions that some might consider unwelcome, ­offensive or insulting.

Model provisions for the voluntary code are outlined in a ­report prepared for the government by former High Court chief justice Robert French , who wants to make freedom of lawful speech a “paramount value” for university staff, students and visitors.

If the model code is adopted, freedom of speech at participating institutions would not be burdened “unnecessarily” by restrictions other than those imposed by law.

It recognises that universities have a duty to protect staff and students from unfair discrimination, threats, intimidation and humiliation.

But that duty does not extend to protecting anyone from feeling offended, shocked or insulted by the speech of another, the model code says.

Education Minister Dan Tehan, who commissioned the French report in November, after a series of ­incidents around the nation in which some universities moved to exclude contentious ideas from campus.

It has been made public after James Cook University was criticised last week by the Federal Circuit Court for trying to silence Professor Peter Ridd instead of debating his concerns about a lack of quality assurance for the university’s research. Professor Ridd is pursuing an unfair dismissal claim against the university.

La Trobe University and the University of Sydney both tried last year to prevent columnist Bettina Arndt from questioning the existence of a “rape culture” at universities.

Academics at Flinders University rejected the university’s plan to host a Bjorn Lomborg-run research centre with $4 million of federal funding after describing Dr Lomborg as ­”infamous” because of his views on climate change.

The report includes an ­appendix, provided by the Institute of Public Affairs, that lists 51 alleged incidents at 20 universities in which freedom of ­expression was said to have come under attack.

The University of Sydney ­accounted for 19 of those alleged incidents.

Conservative Party leader Cory Bernardi has told Leon Byner on Adelaide radio station FIVEaa, under the Conservatives’ proposed bill, the government must justify any erosion of our rights if we are to maintain our national sovereignty.

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