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Canberra Live with Leon Delaney, 2CC, 29 May 2024

TopicsANU called to Senate Estimates, antisemitism on university campuses, inaction of the Albanese Government

Leon Delaney: Now, ANU administrators are set to appear before a Senate estimates hearing next week to face questions over their handling of alleged antisemitic behaviour. Joining me now, the federal Shadow Minister for Education, Senator for Victoria, Sarah Henderson.

Senator Henderson: Good afternoon, Leon, a very good afternoon to you.

Leon Delaney: What exactly are your concerns about the way in which the ANU administrators have managed this matter?

Senator Henderson: Well, for many months we’ve been hearing from particularly Jewish students at ANU that it is not a safe place for them. And we’ve seen many incidents of antisemitic conduct. A number of them are under investigation but given that the ANU is a Commonwealth entity, it is open to us to call them to Estimates to appear before the education committee. So that will happen next week. And I think it’s a very important opportunity to ask ANU about its management of this issue, to shine a light on its policies and operations, and hopefully we will hear some very positive news.

Leon Delaney: We asked ANU to put forward a representative to speak about these matters yesterday, and they were reluctant to do so. They provided a printed statement and that was the extent of their response to that. But essentially, the ANU claim that they, moved on the encampment out of public safety concerns, not because of the antisemitic behaviour allegations. The camp is still there. It’s just in a different spot now. Are you concerned about that?

Senator Henderson: I am concerned about that because these encampments are fuelling incitement and hate and antisemitism as well. Of course, not helped Leon, by the fact that under the Albanese Government we have seen a real failure of leadership. There should be a zero-tolerance towards antisemitism and you will recall the education minister, Jason Clare, saying that, you know, terrorist slogans like intifada means “different things to different people”. He hasn’t even spoken out about the capitulation to protesters, firstly by the University of Melbourne and now the University of Sydney, where they’re doing these incredibly shocking deals with protesters in an attempt to move the encampment rather than just enforcing their rules, rather than just saying, “I’m sorry, this is inexcusable. You are breaking university rules, we are commencing disciplinary proceedings against you, which may result in your expulsion”. So, we have seen a failure of leadership at various universities, and we are very keen to ask ANU a number of questions because, frankly, every single person at a university deserves to be safe, including Jewish students. And it is important that the universities are held to account when they do fail students.

Leon Delaney: I’ll refer to the written statement we got from ANU yesterday, which says our students, staff and community have the right to protest on this issue so long as they do so in ways that are safe, are appropriate for our campus, and which adhere to Australian law and our codes of conduct. The students do have a right to protest don’t they?

Senator Henderson: They do indeed. Freedom of speech, academic freedom, the right to protest, the right to free assembly are fundamental rights in this country. We have no issue with that. But when freedom of speech becomes something very different, when it becomes hate and incitement, when students or staff discriminate or vilify or harass or intimidate, that sort of behaviour should not be protected. And that’s the problem. I think the universities have made some strong statements, but they haven’t followed it up with action. So, when these protests become something very different, when they become antisemitic hate and vilification, it’s incumbent on the university to uphold their rules against intimidation and discrimination and harassment. And that hasn’t been happening across the board. And that is very regrettable. And look, as we know, Leon, there are Jewish students who won’t even go to campuses. They certainly won’t wear any symbol of their faith. And frankly, I was watching some video last night of a protest at the University of Sydney last Friday. Look, most of these protesters, it looks like, are not even university staff or students. They have become, particularly at Sydney, a cesspit of activism. And of course, rather than taking a strong stand, the university vice chancellor at Sydney is now doing this very concerning deal with protesters. We must in this country have a zero-tolerance of any antisemitic behaviour, whether it’s in businesses, whether it’s online, in the street or at our universities. And the Coalition will not tolerate anything other than stamping out antisemitic conduct.

Leon Delaney: I spoke to a Greens’ politician who was actually at the protest location yesterday at the new campsite, and I asked her if she had seen any evidence of any antisemitic activity whatsoever or aggressive behaviour and she said, “No”. Of course, we do know that there was previously evidence about four weeks ago when one of the students called Beatrice Tucker, expressed in her words unconditional support for Hamas, which of course is a terrorist organisation. Now, my understanding is that the ANU suspended that student, pending further disciplinary action. What more should they have done?

Senator Henderson: Well, we will be asking the ANU next week about the investigation in relation to that matter, and also about the two students who allegedly displayed Nazi symbols or performed Nazi salutes in the case of one student. And that’s allegedly because I think there is some denial from those students. But we will be asking the ANU to update the committee on those incidents. But as for the Greens, well, Leon, let’s be frank here, the Greens are an antisemitic political party. They have absolutely no credentials when it comes to speaking on these issues. And in the Senate, I have participated in a number of debates, most recently about the encampments when the Greens were celebrating the encampments. And they do not even have the moral courage to condemn Hamas, which is a listed terrorist organisation. So, I have and frankly, all Australians should turn their back on the Greens. They have disgraced themselves over this issue, and we saw Senator Faruqi, for instance, standing next to a sign at the school strike protest where there was an illustration of the Star of David being put in the bin. I mean, that is disgraceful stuff, blatant antisemitism. And as I say, every single Australian should turn their back on the Greens.

Leon Delaney: What do you expect will be the outcome from the Senate estimates inquiry next week? Will the committee be able to enforce any action?

Senator Henderson: Well, this is a very important opportunity, as I say, to shine a light on the way that the ANU has been managing the antisemitism on its campus. I mean, there may be an opportunity to ask about other issues as well. The ANU is a wonderful university. It does some amazing work. It’s very highly credentialed. We’re very lucky to have the ANU but we want to make sure that when it comes to this toxic issue, which is causing a number of universities, putting them in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, we want to make sure that these universities are being held to account, that they perform to the highest standards. And I think, as I say, I hope and trust, Leon, that this will be a very positive opportunity for the ANU to explain their actions, how they’re enforcing their policies because I’ve been calling for many months for universities to enforce their policies. Generally, they have very good policies, but in many occasions they have failed to enforce their policies. That’s not good enough. And I really do hope that we hear from ANU next week, its commitment to enforcing its policies and taking very serious action against students who engage in unacceptable conduct.

Leon Delaney: Senator, thanks very much for your time today.

Senator Henderson: Great to talk to you. Thanks so much, Leon.

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