Sharri Markson: The University of Melbourne on Tuesday said its governing council and executive will support the Yes position in the referendum. This is a controversial area because many people are questioning whether a university that encourages free speech should be supporting one position on the Voice. Joining me now to discuss this is Liberal senator Sarah Henderson. Welcome to the program Sarah, it’s the sitting week of course in Canberra. Do you have concerns about this?
Senator Henderson: Sharri, good afternoon and great to join you as a relatively new shadow minister for education, and absolutely I have concerns because academic freedom and freedom of speech on university campuses is paramount. It’s critical for critical thinking, for the progression of ideas. And academics which seek to subvert free speech shouldn’t be on university campuses, frankly. So while the University of Melbourne has made it clear this is the position of the executive and the council, I am concerned that they may be seeking to influence others, academics and students, which of course runs contrary to freedom of speech. And that’s why I’m speaking out about the importance of the Albanese Government safeguarding the very important work of the Coalition in protecting free speech in Australian universities.
Markson: Do you think that is going to be a genuine debate here on university campuses when already, you know, it’s not considered the right thing to do for many people to support the no campaign. So do you think it is going to be even socially acceptable for students who make it clear that they don’t agree with the university campus, but with the executive’s position at Melbourne University?
Henderson: Well, Sharri, all educational institutions have an obligation to teach Australians how to think, not what to think. So there needs to be discussion in a balanced way of this particular issue. And we’ve seen four universities come out and support the yes case, which, as I say, does raise concerns in terms of whether it compromises academic freedom and free speech. But I also am really concerned about where this could lead, because I think there are a number of academics – and I have to point out my former university, Monash University the law faculty, has in fact made some statements in relation to the Voice which are demonstrably wrong and it also concerns me that some academics are campaigning rather than teaching. So that’s also a concern, Sharri.
Markson: I mean, if some are arguing that there shouldn’t be a debate at all, then why have a referendum know? Why not just introduce the legislation? The point is the Albanese Government does want there to be discussion and debate amongst Australian citizens.
Henderson: Well, it does, except we’re very concerned about the way the Albanese Government is going about this. Of course we know that it doesn’t want a proper debate in relation to funding both the yes and no cases and it took quite a battle to encourage the Albanese Government to produce a pamphlet. But Sharri I just want to point out something that’s really concerning and I’m looking at something published by Monash University on the 27th of February. It’s “Debunking 10 myths” and one of them talks about how ‘any representations made by the Voice would not be subject to any court challenge. This is because the courts have always been reluctant to interfere with the internal workings of Parliament.’ Now that’s demonstrably wrong. Even the Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, has said that of course the Voice can be challenged by in the High Court and that’s normal with any constitutional provision, particularly any change to our Constitution. So it does concern me that there are a number of academics who are quite improperly campaigning rather than teaching both sides of the argument. But let me just commend Universities Australia, which has not expressed a position, and I think that’s the right and proper thing to do.
Markson: Alright, Sarah Henderson thank you for joining me this evening.