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Whatever happened to the idea of freedom of speech, of freedom to debate diverse political and ideological views? These should be the very hallmarks of a just and democratic society like Australia’s.
Since that is so, why has Roz Ward been suspended from her job at La Trobe University for doing no more than expressing a political opinion? Liberty Victoria, one of the nation’s leading civil liberties advocacy organisations, is shocked by this action.
While there have always been those in society who would shut down opposing ideas rather than engage in civil, intellectual debate, the idea that a University—for which diversity, academic freedom and free speech are fundamental values—would do so is anathema.
The notion that Roz Ward risks losing her job for expressing an opinion (in private, as it appears she believed) about the national flag in a sentence or two is not only astonishing but represents a fundamental attack upon the values that any and every university should advance.
On what basis can a seat of learning justify such oppressive conduct. Isn’t the very idea of a University to encourage robust intellectual interchange?
Roz Ward’s private Facebook expression is not designed to vilify, humiliate or intimidate anyone. It falls clearly within the boundaries of open political dialogue in a free and democratic society.
Furthermore, it was an expression of opinion unrelated to her work. On what basis does the University justify this attempt to silence a person’s right to express a political opinion, outside the academy’s walls?
If the speech caused offence to some minority, or even majority, so be it. As a society we should be robust enough to handle such offence in the interests of promoting active involvement in public and political affairs?
Liberty notes that Victorian law protects freedom of political expression. The Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities defends free speech explicitly. The State’s Equal Opportunity Act 2010 outlaws discrimination on the basis of a person’s political opinions. The Australian Constitution contains an implied right to freedom of public and political discussion.
The University is highly likely, therefore, to face concerted legal action for its arbitrary suspension or possible dismissal of Ms Ward. It will deserve the consequences.
There are many Australians who do not like our flag and some who regard it as a symbol of colonial oppression. Whether or not we agree with those views is not to the point. No one should seek to suppress Ms Ward’s views on this issue, least of all a respected tertiary institution.
Yet La Trobe University has responded in a way that does just that. It has caved in to the bullying behaviour of those in the media and elsewhere who think it right to silence speech that does not accord with their own ideology or political preference.
If only so as not to fall foul of the law and public opinion, La Trobe University should reinstate Roz Ward immediately.