Free Speech in Decline at Australian Universities

Concerning new evidence points to the continuing decline of freedom of speech and increasing restriction of political and social debate at universities across Australia.

The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) has released its annual “Free Speech on Campus Audit” and the results confirm what many parents and friends of university students know: they are under increasing pressure to conform to “group think” as universities introduce policies restricting free speech on campus.

The IPA conducts the audit each year and this year’s audit examines 190 different policies at 42 different universities. Universities are awarded a “hostility score” based on the number of policies and actions that limit free speech. The total score across all universities has increased by 84% in just two years - between 2016 and 2018.

“The audit rates each Australian university, and found that:

  • Thirty-five of Australia’s 42 universities (83 per cent) are Red rated for policies and actions that are hostile to free speech on campus, an increase from 33 in 2016 and 34 in 2017;
  • Six universities (14 per cent) are Amber rated for threats to free speech on campus; and
  • One university, the University of New England, is Green rated for supporting free speech.

The audit also finds that just nine of Australia’s 42 universities have a standalone policy which safeguards intellectual freedom, as mandated by the Higher Education Support Act 2013.

University policies prohibit a wide variety of speech, including ‘insulting’ and ‘unwelcome’ comments, ‘offensive’ language, and, in some cases, ‘sarcasm’. Many universities maintain policies which forbid offending on the basis of political viewpoint or religious belief. There have also been an increasing number of censorious actions at Australian universities, including violent protests against speakers, venue cancellations, and sackings of academics.”

And if you thought that perhaps the “free speech on campus” issue was not really that important, spare a thought for those students whose beliefs differ from the ones deemed acceptable by student unions and the majority of academia.

From The Australian:

First-year University of Sydney economics student Jack Abadee said students who disagreed with others’ opinions tried to suppress their voices.

“I have found that when you try to voice your opinion, no matter what it is, there’s always someone trying to suppress your freedom of speech,” the Students for Liberty society treasurer said.

Mr Abadee, a member of the Liberal Party, ran for the Student Representative Council this year and said the environment was tougher than when he ran for his local council.

“I knew this was what it was going to be like, I didn’t expect it to be as violent at times,” he said. “At least in the real world, in real politics, we’re allowed to discuss our ideas.”

Given the level of self-censoring and politically correct group think that occurs in “the real world” it’s very concerning that university campuses, once the vanguard of new ideas and political freedom, are actually so much worse than the norm.

It’s an irony of the modern world that university campuses, where “diversity” is a buzzword held in the highest esteem, are places that actively discourage diversity of political and social opinion.

And these students who are being schooled in left-leaning, authoritarian intolerance are the ones who are destined to be the leading policy makers, journalists, business leaders and politicians of the future.

The IPA’s audit is important research which reminds us that “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance” as we at Advance Australia push back against restricting the freedoms that are integral to our democratic society.