The review of freedom of speech at universities announced by the federal government is a timely initiative to ensure the rights and freedoms of all Australians are protected on Australian campuses, The Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) said.
The review follows a paper published last month by CIS Senior Research Fellow Dr Jeremy Sammut, University Freedom Charters: How best to protect free speech on Australian campuses, which called for the introduction of University of Chicago-style free speech charters to promote and protect free and open inquiry in pursuit of truth in Australian universities.
“We welcome the move to hold higher education administrators to account and ensure universities fulfil the role they receive billions of taxpayer’s dollars to perform in a democratic society,” Dr Sammut said.
“As my report showed, the free speech policies developed in Chicago and emulated by other US colleges are international best practice.”
The review, headed by former High Court Chief Justice, Robert French, has been tasked with developing realistic and practical policies to promote free speech on campus that are based the Chicago approach.
“The Chicago model strikes the right balance between protecting legitimate debate and protest and stamping out the kind of disruptive behaviour that interferes with the right to free speech of others like we have seen recently at Sydney University,” Dr Sammut said.
He also welcomed the announcement that the federal government will use the findings of the review to formulate a national declaration on freedom of speech that will serve as a benchmark to hold universities to account.
“A key recommendation of my research was the need to ensure that university freedom charters are not toothless tigers to which only lip service is paid, and to impose greater external accountability mechanisms for what universities actually do and don’t do to protect free speech.”
Dr Jeremy Sammut is a Senior Research Fellow and Director of the CIS Culture, Prosperity, and Civil Society Program.