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Thursday, 28 May 1987
Page: 3589

Mr KENT(10.27) —As a member of parliament for a number of years now, I realise that some aspects of life in politics are ugly. I have seen some people walking around with knives in their backs, and I am aware of the intrigue and treachery that from time to time goes on around us. However, I am shocked to learn that such things, and even worse things, are going on in our universities and institutes of higher education. One would expect that such places are centres of learning and excellence and that intrigue and back-stabbing are not prevalent in the world of academia.

Recently, however, I came across an interesting memorandum sent to the Director of the Gippsland Institute of Advanced Education, by the Head of the School of Engineering, Dr Ken Spriggs. Before I read the memo, let me first inform the House of the circumstances which prompted Dr Spriggs' letter. In mid-1986 the Head of the School of Social Sciences at the Gippsland Institute of Advanced Education, Mr Peter Harwood, informed the Institute's academic staff association that he could not recommend tenure for Dr Hicks at the end of his two-year probationary period. The grounds for his decision were: Firstly, Ron Hicks' coolness towards students; secondly Ron Hicks' unavailability for consultation with students; and, thirdly, Ron Hicks' refusal to talk to or follow instructions given by Peter Harwood.

After a number of meetings, in December 1986, Mr Peter Harwood finally admitted that all the concerns he had raised earlier about Dr Hicks had been satisfactorily resolved. However, he advised the meeting that he still had a `feeling' about Dr Hicks and for this reason could not confirm tenure. Consequently, Dr Hicks approached the Director of the Institute and suggested the establishment of an independent inquiry into the matter. Dr Kennedy agreed. The inquiry was made up of one academic, Mr Bill Battersby, Senior Lecturer in Economics, and the Assistant Director of the Institute, Mr Jerry Smart. The inquiry confirmed that the concerns expressed by Peter Harwood had been resolved and suggested confirmation of tenure for Dr Hicks.

However, the Director refused to make a decision and now denies that any such inquiry took place. In addition, Peter Harwood has been working behind the scenes in an attempt to prejudice Dr Hicks in any redress that he may seek in this matter. I will now read to the House excerpts of the memorandum from Dr Ken Spriggs, Head of the School of Engineering, to Dr Kennedy, the Director of the Institute, which was prompted by these developments. I quote:

Thank you for your reply of 20th February, 1987 to my memo expressing concern as to the Institute's present industrial relations. You expressed some worries as to what I only attempted to allude. I will spell out my concerns in greater detail.

I was referring to the following when I said some heads of schools generously interpret institute policy in their favour . . .

Dr Spriggs then went on to say:

Heads of schools do not teach students. We are allowed actively to pursue financially profitable outside activities . . . heads of schools earn close to $60,000 per annum in salary. Additional income can be earned with other salaries as in the case of Peter Harwood as Chairman of the LRC (Latrobe Regional Commission) . . .

I have already received complaints from students that the heads of School of Business and Social Sciences have been soliciting them to issue complaints about their academic staff. Life for the administration could become difficult if the student union or the staff association obtain this information.

Dr Spriggs concluded his memo by saying:

`Our activities would not stand up to close scrutiny' refers to the four or five presently aggrieved academic staff or the staff association or even the student union who could take issue with any or all of the above mentioned topics. If our political masters learn of our work practices some embarrassing questions could be asked. I believe it is essential to maintain a lower public profile with regards to industrial issues. I repeat let's forget about these `Jewish trouble makers' and allow us to continue to enjoy a peaceful profitable existence.

All the factors that I have put before the House lead me to ask why Mr Peter Harwood hates Dr Hicks? Is it because Dr Hicks is a Jew or for some other reason?

However, be that as it may, the central point to be made in this instance is that this episode at the Institute is revolting and it is time that an impartial external commission of inquiry is established without delay to look into all aspects of anti-semitic and other victimisation at the Institute. Only such an inquiry can ensure and put to rest criticisms and allegations of discrimination, nepotism and blatant anti-semitism at the Gippsland Institute of Advanced Education. It is also the only way the taxpayers of Australia can be assured that money earmarked for education is spent appropriately on teaching and advancing knowledge and not on the promotion of personal vendettas and racial hatred and bigotry.