Free speech on campus really is free for 'Pirate Pete' FitzSimons who used his position on the University of Sydney Senate to rent out the university's Great Hall for free to an organisation which he chairs...
University campuses are supposed to be places of robust debate, places where a contest of ideas can be held with enthusiasm and energy without fear of being condemned, punished and attacked merely for expressing a thought.
Sadly there is a growing gulf between what universities should be and what they are. With student politics, and even senior academia, dominated by left-wing beliefs, it is increasingly hard for conservative voices to make themselves heard, leave alone be respected.
The Australian Republican Movement took advantage of their relationships with left-wing academics at the University of Sydney and received free use of three venues at the university to the value of $5,000, including its Great Hall.
Former footballer-turned-opinion-giver Peter FitzSimons was both chairman of the ARM and pro-chancellor of Sydney University when the event was held and a Freedom of Information request from the Australian Taxpayers Alliance revealed how closely those two roles overlapped in his communication with the university as he thanked a university staff member for the “VERY KIND understanding” (his capitals) he had with them.
Yet it is increasingly the case that speakers and groups wishing to hold right-wing events, such as the screening of the documentary ‘The Red Pill’ at Sydney University in 2017, are refused support.
When conservative groups on campus are threatened by much larger left-wing student groups, their aggressors are allowed to act with virtual impunity while the victims are blamed for simply existing. Indeed the ‘Red Pill’ screening saw the University of Sydney threaten the associated clubs with a bill for security – security required purely because of the left-wing student protesters who rallied against it.
It is not just conservatives being targeted by violent protests and de-platforming tactics either.
Bettina Arndt, a psychologist and sex therapist who edited Penthouse magazine spin-off Forum in the seventies, has faced the same level of institutional hostility at La Trobe University over attempts to deliver a talk on the alleged campus sexual assault crisis to Liberal Club students.
Even outside the campus, these passionate but intolerant students refuse to allow their opponents to be heard: Malcolm Turnbull and Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s offices were stormed by student protestors and a press conference held by Birmingham was invaded over proposed cuts to university funding. Police were required to remove the protestors at these events.
Bettina Arndt is not a conservative, nor is Cassie Jaye, director of ‘The Red Pill’ and Malcolm Turnbull – while the leader of the Liberal Party – is hardly a hero of conservatives across the country.
Anyone who isn’t far left is far right, at least that’s the thought process of these students who refuse to entertain the idea of allowing free speech to crawl back into the university-sized safe spaces they have built for themselves and their ‘allies’. And that is the most worrying thing about all of this; there is no search for truth motivating them and they aren’t fighting for genuinely held values. These people are fighting to keep themselves wrapped in cotton wool and, what’s worse, they are fighting for the right to force others to do the same.
All this paints a disheartening picture, but the forecast isn’t all doom and gloom. La Trobe University, who initially banned Arndt from talking, then warned her if it went ahead she would have to pay for extra security, have now backflipped after public indignation and have said they will be covering any increased security costs.
The left’s long march into our educational institutions has damaged our academic culture of ideological debate and healthy competition for now but the pendulum always swings the other way – as left-wing protests grow bigger, more hateful and hyperbolic they only highlight their own absurdity and push the bulk of the student body and society in general away from their regressive, authoritarian beliefs.
Give ‘em enough rope…
Eliot Metherell is a Research Associate at the Australian Taxpayers' Alliance
[This article first appeared in The Spectator Australia]