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AM Agenda, Sky News, 9 May 2024

TopicsSenate inquiry into antisemitism, university protests.

Cheng Lei: Joining me live is Shadow Education Minister, Sarah Henderson. Hi there Sarah, great to have you on the show. So, do you think, um, how far can we go in terms of, um, allowing freedom of expression and also this sense of injustice that youths have, but also not really have it escalate into hate?

Senator Henderson: Well, Lei thank you very much and great to join you this morning. We’re pushing for a senate inquiry because the situation on university campuses has become intolerable. Of course, we must strongly support free speech and academic freedom, and that’s not in question. But when speech crosses the line and it becomes incitement and hate speech and breaches university guidelines which prevent discrimination or vilification or intimidation or harassment and when the universities are not upholding their own guidelines, we have a massive problem in this country. We cannot tolerate what we are seeing at the moment, the encampments, the antisemitic protests, the encouragement of children to chant terrorist slogans like `Intifada’. And, of course, we’ve now seen extremists basically infiltrate some university campuses, including a man who is on bail for alleged assault and kidnapping. He was at Monash University yesterday causing absolute havoc. And this is just beyond the pale, Lei, absolutely beyond the pale. So, we are hoping for support right across the Parliament for a Senate inquiry, which will shine a light into this conduct, which will look at possible changes to the law. And of course, we’ll give a Jewish students and staff a very important voice.

Cheng Lei: Do you think, um, chants like `From the River to the Sea’ should be banned, much like the Nazi salute?

Senator Henderson: Look, I do, because it is a call for the destruction of Israel. Also chants like `Intifada’, calling for a global intifada is calling for a terrorist uprising or a terrorist attack on Jews, no matter where they are around the world. So, of course, free speech and academic freedom is fundamental on university campuses, but so is the right to go about your studies peacefully to learn in an environment which is peaceful, which does not disrupt your learning and which does not subject you, as is happening with so many Jewish students, to unmitigated hate and harassment and intimidation. That simply cannot be tolerated. The universities are – some are doing an okay job, some are doing a terrible job – at enforcing their own guidelines, including investigations for misconduct. I mean, look what’s going on in the United States, Lei. Some universities are taking a very hard line. They’re saying `If you want to intimidate and harass others, you are not welcome on our campus and you will be banned’. We need to see our universities step up. And I think our senate inquiry is a really important part of that process.

Cheng Lei: Do you think there is the same level of antisemitism as there is Islamophobia? And if so, um, you know, are people are Muslims feeling intimidated as well or just as many Muslims?

Senator Henderson: We are not seeing we are not seeing complaints of Islamophobia on Australian university campuses. And that’s why this senate inquiry is a real test of leadership for the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, who has said he will not tolerate antisemitism. Of course, we’ve seen a very weak and, frankly, pathetic education minister who has implicitly green lit, hate speech on university campuses. He has really got to step up. The government has got to step up. And that’s why I’m hoping we will get bipartisanship and in fact, support from all senators right across the parliament.

Cheng Lei: So, if you’re a uni student or if your parents of a uni student, how should you be behaving when it comes to peaceful protests, when you feel very strongly about this war?

Senator Henderson: I have … just use the University of Sydney’s Freedom of Speech Guide, which is particularly aimed at student activists and protesters. It makes it very clear that free speech is fundamental, but they cannot cross the line. So, when speech becomes intimidatory or imbued with hatred or incitement, that is prohibited at the University of Sydney. And yet the university is not taking appropriate action against these students. Every student has a right to be safe on a university campus, Lei. That’s the fundamental premise. And Jewish students and Jewish staff are not safe. Particularly at Sydney Uni and Melbourne Uni and Monash is also running out-of-control, though I have to say, the Vice Chancellor there is taking some very tough action. There was a terrible incident where a young Jewish student was surrounded by protesters. He had a speaker held to his ear. I mean, this was verging on assault. And the university has referred this to police and is now investigating those students. So, the university Vice Chancellors have got to step up. And the senate inquiry has got to look at what else we can do to make sure that every single student in this country is safe on a university campus.

Cheng Lei: For sure. Thank you so much for your time today. That’s our shadow education minister.

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