06 Apr ‘LEFT ACTIVISTS FORGOTTEN WHAT FREEDOM OF SPEECH IS’: EDUCATION MINISTER SLAMS STUDENTS FOR PULLING CHINA STORY
Anthony Galloway – The Age – Tuesday 6 April 2021
Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge has attacked Sydney University’s student newspaper for taking down a report revealing academics’ links to the Chinese government, saying the move highlights the importance of protecting academic freedom and freedom of speech on campus.
Sydney University’s Honi Soit published a story on March 31 naming two professors in the engineering faculty whom it claimed were associated with “controversial Chinese government recruitment schemes” and had “collaborated with sanctioned Chinese universities” on potential military technology research.
The online version was removed hours after publication and editors posted an apology to the academics, readers and the Chinese community on the paper’s Facebook page after they received negative feedback online.
The 10 editors of the student newspaper say they did not pull down the report because it was inaccurate or racist but because “directly naming those academics was negligent, particularly in the face of escalating Sinophobia and racism at the University of Sydney and in wider society”.
“Left activists have forgotten what freedom of speech means in an era of woke culture. Certainly any claims that it was taken down to appease the Chinese Communist Party are deeply concerning,” he said.
“If anywhere should be a bastion of free speech and fiercely debating ideas, it is university campuses. We recently passed legislation to further strengthen protections for academic freedom and freedom of speech at Australia’s universities.”
In a statement, the editors of Honi Soit said the article was not removed to appease the CCP but “out of concern for the safety of academics mentioned in the article, against whom we made no allegations of personal wrongdoing”.
“The fact that federal ministers are commenting on stories they have not read, based on unfounded allegations made on Facebook, is absurd,” the editors said. “We maintain that nothing in the article was incorrect. At no time were we pressured by the university, or other individuals or groups, including the Chinese Communist Party or its supporters, in this decision. Speculation to the contrary is false and misleading.”
The government has been concerned about foreign interference at universities and theft of intellectual property under talent recruitment schemes, with a federal parliamentary inquiry into Chinese interference on campus recently hearing that more than 300 scientists and scholars have been recruited under the schemes.
Liberal senator James Paterson, chair of federal parliament’s intelligence and security committee, said the editors were giving into the CCP’s favoured tactic of “weaponising claims of racism to shut down legitimate scrutiny”.
“Of course we should have zero tolerance for anti-Chinese racism,” Senator Paterson said. “There is nothing racist about exposing the links between Australian academics and Chinese military universities and talent recruitment programs. Australians who generously fund our universities have every right to know whether their dollars are going.”