Elaine Pearson on free speech at UNSW

Between The Lines


Battle of free speech on Australian University campuses. Allying piece was interviewed by the Media Department at the University of new. South. Wales about the human rights implications of Hong. Kong's new national security role as. Director at Human Rights Watch and an adjunct law lecturer at the university. She expressed concern about the laws and called on the United Nations Secretary General to appoint a special envoy in Hong Kong. Well, it's hardly a very controversial stuff in democracy lock Australia Russia. Will sell you think. We'll after the article, win online the pro. Chinese Communist Party students at the university they demanded the article be removed. You see caused a fence it was hurtful to the communist government in China. The university caved in and pulled the article. Only. After an outcry in the press was the article riposted. So. How did we get to the point when one of Australia's leading universities agrees to political censorship in favor of another nation state? Elaine. Joins me now aligned welcome to between the lines. Great to have you on the program. Thanks Tom. Now, the article is back on the University of New South Wales website but with caveats that the views expressed do not represent the views of the university you happy with this outcome. Well I'm glad that they put it back up. But I am pretty disappointed at the university's response I mean I think you know the views expressed in that article of us about the human rights situation in Hong Kong and I think that shouldn't be something that should be controversial and I was a bit surprised actually that the university was so quick to distance themselves from those views and I think you know I presumed that the ferocity of the campaign by the Pro Chinese Communist Party. Students really took them by surprise. But I think now the question really is how is Going to respond to this and I, think the students you know really are looking to see what is going to be the public response and what next is the university going to do to address these shoes mind you. This is not the only incident of academic freedom being compromised. Can you tell us about some of the other cases? Yeah, Human Rights Watch has actually been documenting Chinese document lit threats to academic freedom since two thousand fifteen not just in Australia about universities all around the world we've looked cases in the US the UK Canada France and right here, and what we've seen is that there is A universities are in a tight bind because the become quite dependent on foreign students. Many of those students coming from China those students have a very different world view, many of them and when they come here. Obviously you know coming here should come with a guarantee of academic freedom and what these should be quite basic things for an Australian university education. But in reality if those students try and for instance, join protests on campus about Hong Kong or Fin Jiang they are often then reported to the Chinese consulates So they are very afraid of doing anything like that they just. Try and keep the hits down and you know you only have to look at the controversy that's happened on Q. Withdrew Pavlou and how he has been treated to see that you know we you know it's not a very impressive response from the universities to to say, Scott Free speech and academic freedom only sorts of sensitive topics like shin-jang like Hong Kong, and like human rights in China. Now you mentioned drew heavily, he was expelled from the University of Queensland in part. For, organizing, what was it very noisy pro Hong Kong protests is that right? Well, he's been suspended. So I, think you know the industry who six months suspension six month suspension so He has been you know he's had been a pretty provocative campaigner. Some of these methods may have been a bit unorthodox, but at the end of the day, look at what happened to him on on that campus I. Mean there were fistfights erupting you cue between the different student groups you had in our pro CCP's students you know supporting the Communist Party trying to tear down. The messages from? Hong, Kong democracy supporters and the only person who's actually suffered any retaliation or reprisals is is drew himself, and so we wanna see universities really safeguard academic freedom and free speech and I think that means also acting against those who are intimidating or harassing all those on campus and making the campus a safe space to express all sorts of different views. Now in your case, a lot of the outrage amongst the Chinese students was expressed and organized I understand on Chinese soil media platforms way chat. which are now apparently watched by Beijing and to what extent you concerned about those platforms like we had and I think the other one is is a waiver we Yes that's right. Yeah I mean. These were the platforms where they organize. Look if students want to express different view an opposing you that's fine I think. I'm concerned is the extent to which this campaign became one of intimidating and harassing other students who expressed different views and as I understand it were threats made that they would report people to the Chinese consulate. For expressing excuse so I think the universities actually really need to monitor. Their social media channels and not just use them as a means of advertising for you know potential new students come to the university but also make sure that those channels are being you know being up being watched not to to censor free speech. But as I said, you know where that free speech is crossing the line. I also think they just need to be clear to the students. You know what what that means that it means. Going to a means being exposed to two different views and a free to discuss and debate those issues, but you're not free to shut down. The views of others. Of course, a line universities in Australia and this is cried sacred I've become increasingly dependent on. Overseas students for their budgets. Some have more diversified student bodies but others locked. University of new, South, Wales away opposite talking about University of New South Wales because of your special case this week they heavily concentrated on the Chinese market now since covert. US W has been one of the hardest hit by travel restrictions at recently made nearly I think five hundred staff redundant. Do you think this budget anxiety affected their handling of the issue align peace and? Yes I've been I think this reliance on the revenue from foreign students is something that you know all universities are facing now and so it it is putting them in a difficult position but I think that's why actually universities need to have a unified front. I think they really need to look at their existing. Codes of conduct they don't actually deal with these issues of foreign students might come from very different oil you, and so you know what I've suggested to you, and it's still view and to many other universities in Australia is to adopt a twelve point code of conduct specifically on these issues and they need to be alive to these issues. They need to incorporate it more into the orientation when you foreign students coming to campus so that they really understand what academic freedom means with our and they need to sort of monitor and. Safeguard, for you know acts of intimidation or harassment because I'm not so worried about myself but I'm more worried about other students on campus who will see how the situation has developed and then they might be too scared to speak out on. Hong Kong will fit in the classroom or other academics who might think twice about taking a meteorological on Hong Kong because they'll be worried about the potential backlash. So you know I think universities really need to take a stand on this and you know it needs to be done. You know jointly. By by all USTRALIAN universities.

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