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Minister Dawkins' breathtaking hypocrisy

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"Having shaken the foundations of Australia's higher education system the Minister for Employment, Education and Training is now trying to extricate himself from the resultant rubble", the Shadow Minister for Education, Peter Reith, said today.

Mr Reith was commenting on a speech made by Minister Dawkins at Melbourne University yesterday evening in which he announced his intention to include, in Commonwealth funding legislation, a Charter to "guarantee institutional autonomy and academic freedom".

"Minister Dawkins' announcement is a clear admission of the truth of the condemnation by many leading academics of Labor's use of financial blackmail and its move to centralise control of higher education. And these tactics are not limited to higher education, but are clearly evident in schools and other areas.

"The Minister is engaging in a blatant political manoeuvre to mute the voice of responsible opposition in the run-up to the next election. His words are symptomatic of the despair permeating Labor's Cabinet.

"If the Minister can not see that his frenzied drive for reform has compromised the freedom of academic activity in this country then maybe he should be moved to a portfolio where there is less potential for damage!

"His amalgamation directives, backed by implicit and explicit threats of reduced funding for those institutions which do not comply with his blueprint, inspired outrage among many in the academic world.

"So did his requirement for 'educational profiles' to be completed by institutions as a precondition of funding. The profiles have been up to three hundred pages long and institutions have been required to supply huge amounts of detail about their internal activities. As long as profiles exist, the Minister's mouthings about a Charter of academic freedom can only be seen as the breathtaking hypocrisy they truly are.

"Like Labor's Bill of Rights, the Minister's Charter is just another con trick. Experience in the United Kingdom has shown that it is extremely difficult to legislate for academic freedom. In any event, the matters specified for inclusion in the Charter do not address the major concerns of institutions and academics. Instead, we have the

incredible spectacle of the Minister purporting to give academics a right which they, and all Australian citizens, already have - the right of free speech. A right which many senior academics have repeatedly used in condemning the Minister's centralist tendencies.

"The absurdity of the situation is that the Minister has the solution in his own hands. He could instantly put to rest academic concerns by dismantling the bureaucratic controls that he and his Department have imposed on institutions. The Minister's Charter is a deliberate

smokescreen to conceal his refusal to dismantle these controls."

Telephone: (059) 793188

Contact: Peter Reith