Academic freedom from speech

On the evening of Monday 1 October, Age journalist Michael Bachelard rang the office of Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey. The call was about a report neither Hockey nor his staff had seen, Australia@Work. Bachelard explained some findings on pay under AWAs. With a deadline approaching, Hockey’s office hurriedly produced a response they didn’t proofread. As Bachelard tells the story:

Twenty minutes later, the minister emailed an official response.

“This report is not credible. It is the same old flawed research from the same old union accedemics (sic). It contradicts far more reliable findings from the ABS. It has (sic) hardly surprising that acdemics (sic) such as John Buchanan and Brigid van Wanrooy, who has previously authored ACTU research, would come up with such a flawed report.”

The next morning, presumably still not having seen the report, but with the task of defending the government’s industrial relations policies, Hockey accused the report’s authors of being ‘former trade union officials who are parading as academics’, who had suddenly released an anti-WorkChoices report just before the election. ‘So you have to look to their motives’, he said. ‘This research is heavily influenced by academics who have done a lot of work for the trade union movement over a number of years.’

To most of us, it looks like just another round of the quick and cheap point-scoring we see every day in Australian politics. 70% of Labor’s front bench are former trade union officials parading as potential Ministers, aren’t they? It’s hard to take seriously.

At universities, however, it seems to be a very serious matter indeed. In The Australian yesterday, University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor Gavin Brown was reported as saying:
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