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Government condemns threats to academic freedom

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Senator the Hon Christopher Evans

Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations Leader of the Government in the Senate

Senator The Hon Kim Carr

Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research 6 June, 2011

Joint Media Release

Government condemns threats to academic freedom

The Federal Government has condemned the threats to and intimidation of climate change scientists in Australian universities. Such behaviour is contemptible and has no place in Australia.

It that Australia’s leading climate change scientists are being subjected to a vicious and continuous campaign of intimidation which is seeing some universities move them to higher itsecurity buildings.

Australia prides self on being a country in which public debate is open and informed by the facts.

“No-one should feel intimidated about expressing their views openly, irrespective of which side of the debate they are on,” Senator Chris Evans, Minister for Tertiary Education.

Ministers Evans and Carr also welcomed the statement by Universities Australia today calling on political and community leaders to speak out in support of academic freedom, following reports from a number of universities of threats against academics researching climate change.

The Government has introduced a Bill amending the Higher Education Support Act to protect free intellectual inquiry. Under the Bill, universities will be required to have policies upholding free intellectual inquiry in relation to learning, teaching and research.

The Opposition must immediately release for public scrutiny the amendments that it is proposing to modify statutory protections for free intellectual inquiry in our nation’s universities.

“Free intellectual inquiry is an important principle underpinning the provision of higher education in Australia. It is fundamental to the scientific method and rigorous scholarship. It is necessary to enable evidence to be challenged, competing theories to be debated and facts to be established,” said Senator Carr.

Yet the Opposition’s position on the proposed protection for free intellectual inquiry remains unclear - and there are some worrying signs.

The only hint appears in an article in The Australian last week, in which it is reported that the Opposition will be moving amendments, ‘reflecting the long held concerns in the Coalition that university teaching is biased towards the Left’.

“This does nothing to reassure universities that the Coalition is genuinely committed to freedom of intellectual inquiry,” said Senators Carr and Evans.

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