Thursday, 21 October 2021

Bill drawn to protect freedom of expression on campus


“A Member’s Bill in my name drawn today will require tertiary education institutions to protect freedom of expression,” says ACT MP Dr James McDowall.

“Freedom of expression and academic freedom are critical values for institutions of higher learning. The Education (Freedom of Expression) Amendment Bill will ensure tertiary education institutions like universities are funded by taxpayers for the purpose of freely and openly inquiring into ideas.

“Fostering the ability of students to discuss and debate ideas is an essential part of their educational mission.

“Taxpayers don’t expect tertiary institutions to hinder freedom of expression by de-platforming speakers that they don’t agree with.

“Tertiary education institutions are required by the Education Act 1989 and the Bill of Rights Act 1990 to uphold academic freedom and freedom of expression, but it is currently not a condition of funding that institutions adhere to these requirements.

“Essentially, there are no consequences if an institution actively inhibits freedom of expression without legitimate cause.

“There is a growing trend of universities using health and safety obligations, in particular the risk to the mental wellbeing of students, as a pretext for de-platforming speakers and cancelling events where they might be perceived as controversial or offensive.

“For example, Massey University’s recently released policy on freedom of expression cites ‘mental harm to students’ as a reason that speakers may be de-platformed or events cancelled.

“Taxpayer funded institutions, through their management, should not be forcing their worldview on students, using dubious claims to do so.

“My Bill requires that tertiary education institutions protect freedom of expression, including by issuing codes of practice that set out the procedures students and staff should follow to uphold freedom of expression, and by ensuring that the requirements of codes of practice are met.

"Tertiary education institutions will not be allowed to rely on their duty to eliminate or minimise potential risk of mental harm to students, staff, or visitors under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 as a reason not to comply with their duty to ensure freedom of speech.

"Tertiary education institutions will be ineligible for funding, and may have funding suspended, revoked, or withdrawn, if they fail to comply with the requirement to protect freedom of expression.”