Academic free speech is under great threat in Australia (and elsewhere) from authoritarian university managers of corporatized universities, state and federal governments, secret government, foreign governments (notably the US and Apartheid Israel and their lobbyists), mendacious oligopoly Mainstream media, and lack of a Bill of Rights guaranteeing free speech.
Back in 2001 I gave a paper entitled “Current Academic Censorship and Self-Censorship in Australian Universities” to a conference of academics concerned with preservation of core values of the public university. My paper was published in the Public University Journal, 2001: https://webarchive.nla.gov.au/awa/20080218023444/http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/57092/20080218-1150/www.publicuni.org/jrnl/volume/1/jpu_1_s_polya.pdf . My paper commenced “The core academic ethos involves commitment to truth, reason and free speech and these elements are operationally intimately intertwined in the concept of academic freedom… Academic freedom is presently under attack in Australia and paradoxically this constraint is coming from within our universities. This situation must be urgently reversed.” 22 years later the situation is far worse with the corporatizing of Australian universities, Codes of Conduct limiting academic free speech, extensive government interference, and most recently the adoption by Melbourne University of the false, racist, defamatory, anti-Semitic and holocaust-ignoring Zionist IHRA Definition of anti-Semitism, a move that threatens the free speech of academics and students at Melbourne University and potentially at all Australian universities (Gideon Polya, “Melbourne University Adopts Anti-Semitic & Holocaust-Ignoring IHRA Definition Of Anti-Semitism”, Countercurrents, 5 February 2023: https://countercurrents.org/2023/02/melbourne-university-adopts-anti-semitic-holocaust-ignoring-ihra-definition-of-anti-semitism/ ). Set out below is a 2023 update on the threats to academic free speech in Australia.
(A). Why free speech is vital
Free speech and free expression are vital for scientific advance, scholarly advance, and for both Science (better models of reality) and the Arts (the ineffable perceptions from literature, poetry, music, dance, ballet, opera, theatre, drawing, painting, and indeed religious faith).
The Popperian model of science involves the critical testing of potentially falsifiable hypotheses. Indeed science-based rational risk management for societal safety successively involves (a) accurate data from untrammelled reportage, (b) scientific analysis, and (c) systemic change (adoption of a better model of reality) to minimize harm when things inevitably go wrong.
Conversely, the all too common spin that dominates human societies from top to bottom successively involves (a) lies, slies (spin-based half -truths), intimidation, and censorship, (b) anti-science spin involving the selective use of asserted facts to support a partisan position, and (c) blame and shame with no systemic change and counterproductive inhibition of vital reportage of accurate data.
Lying by omission is far, far worse than lying by commission because the latter at least admits the possibility of public refutation and public debate (subject to constraints on freedom of speech and effective free speech by mendacious Mainstream gate-keepers and Mainstream journalist, editor, politician, academic and commentariat presstitutes).
While spin is unfortunately all too common, science-based rational risk management is notably successfully applied in aviation, anaesthesiology, the nuclear power industry, and high technology US Alliance warfare (brilliant for the US Alliance soldiers, extremely bad for their victims). Just as natural selection of “better” genes and memes (societally selected ideas) requires a diversity to operate upon, so free speech enables a diversity of ideas to be selected upon for a better world.
(B). Major causes of academic free speech constraint in Australia
(i). Human nature, The System and academic self-censorship. Humans not only deceive others, they also deceive themselves (cognitive dissonance). Winning is important not just in sport but in all areas of human activity. Thus deception is a key element in sport (e.g. the dummy pass in Rugby and AFL). Indeed resolutely unacknowledged is that Olympic gold medals go to genetically better-endowed athletes and typically those from very rich countries with high technology training and sports institutes. Academia is no exception: For all the ethical and noble search for Truth, when it comes to advancement, money, grants and power academics are no different from cunning Rugby players selling a dummy or corporate tax minimizers. Read “Microcosmographia Academica. Being a guide for the young academic politician” by F.M. Cornforth, and a delightfully funny literature about academic foibles, conceits and misdeeds by writers such as Tom Sharpe, David Lodge, Kingsley Amis and Howard Jacobsen. The System encourages academic fear, cowardice, self-censorship, gamesmanship, corporate propaganda, “publish or perish” , “butterfly collecting” as opposed to radical and adventurous science, and indeed arrogance, bullying and even narcissism.
(ii). State and Federal governments. State and Federal Governments variously fund universities and can punish institutions and academics for perceived transgressions. Academic researchers depend on research funding but in circa 2000 the Federal Government introduced ignorant and politicized layperson editing of the list of expertly-awarded Australian Research Council (ARC) grants, ignoring the exhaustive and expert processes involved in Grant Submissions and Grant Awards. In May 2013 the Coalition threatened to de-fund any individuals or organizations supporting Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Apartheid Israel because it falsely regarded such support (presumably including such support from anti-racist Jews) as “antisemitic”. Australia is 1 of 35 member nations of the all-European International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) that is all European and largely committed to nuclear holocaust as an acceptable military strategy. Indeed all but 4 of the IHRA members joined Australia, the US and Ukraine in voting No to the 2022 annual UNGA Anti-Nazi Resolution that deplores Nazism , neo-Nazism and consequent ugly racism (even neo-Nazi Apartheid Israel voted Yes for 6 million obvious reasons). The IHRA Definition of antisemitism is anti-Jewish anti-Semitic and anti-Arab anti-Semitic by falsely defaming anti-racist Jewish, Palestinian, Arab and Muslim critics of Nazi-style Israeli Apartheid) and genocide-ignoring and holocaust–ignoring (by ignoring all WW2 holocausts other than the WW2 Jewish Holocaust, and indeed ignoring about 70 genocides and holocausts, noting that genocide ignoring and holocaust ignoring are far, far worse than repugnant genocide denial and holocaust denial because the latter can at least permit public refutation and public debate). For these reasons scholars around the world and over 40 anti-racist Jewish organizations have condemned the IHRA. 2 state governments (NSW and Victoria), the Federal Labor Government and the Coalition Opposition have adopted the anti-Semitic, pro-Apartheid and holocaust-ignoring IHRA Definition.
(iii). Secret government. Famed anti-racist Jewish American journalist I.F. Stone famously opined “Governments lie”. The Australian Government is obsessively secretive and increasingly refuses to divulge numerous things on the basis of “national security” (lying by omission, noting that lying is fundamentally inimical to societal security as explained in (A) above). The Defence Trade Controls Bill (2012) provides lengthy custodial punishment for any academic divulging in lectures, conferences or publications any of a huge number of matters specified in a long list of prohibited areas In 2012 I discovered that matters I and textbooks had discussed for 40 years were now forbidden subjects. Universities Australia protested but this draconian censorship law has remained in place under successive traitorous, mendacious, Australian Intelligence- and US- beholden Labor and Coalition Governments. Inspired by racist US legislation, related racist Australian laws and regulations prohibit scientists from targeted countries from collaborative research with Australian scientists in particular areas. Conversely, decent, patriotic and truth-telling Australian whistle-blowers (e.g. Witness J and Witness K) have been persecuted and subject to secret trials, secret evidence, and secret imprisonment. Similarly, the world’s most famous journalist, Julian Assange, who would be offered a chair at any decent university, has been imprisoned for 10 years in London (including 3 years in Belmarsh Prison) for truth-telling about US Alliance war crimes, shamefully ignored by successive US lackey Labor and Coalition governments.
(iv). Foreign governments and corporations. US Studies centres are extremely well-funded by government, the US state department and the CIA, and are present in the Australian academic scene to the detriment of poorly-funded Arts departments. This funding disparity worsened during the COVID-19 Pandemic with the Coalition Government sacking 40,000 university staff (censorship indeed). Eminent pro-peace and pro-human rights academic, Associate Professor Jake Lynch (Sydney University) was unsuccessfully prosecuted in the Federal Court by an Israeli organization with huge resources. Many of Australia’s 43 universities are involved in secret military research involving Apartheid Israel and Zionist-subverted America, noting that the US and Apartheid Israel test the efficacy of their weaponry on subject Palestinians and Muslim countries from West Africa to south East Asia, and now in the US-provoked but nevertheless appalling and war criminal Russian invasion of Ukraine.
(v). Agents and supporters of foreign governments. At least 2 of Australia’s 43 universities (Melbourne University and Wollongong University) have adopted the false, anti-Jewish anti-Semitic, anti-Arab anti-Semitic, pro-Apartheid, genocide-ignoring, and holocaust-ignoring IHRA Definition of antisemitism that is globally promulgated in support of neo-Nazi Apartheid Israel that is fervently backed by Zionist-subverted America. Australia is second only to the US as a supporter of Apartheid Israel. Australian universities carry detailed assessments of literally millions of local and overseas students, and the US shares raw intelligence on Australians with Apartheid Israel.
(vi). Codes of conduct, commercial in confidence, and suppression of academic free speech. It is extremely likely that all 43 Australian universities have Codes of Conduct constraining what academics can say in the public domain, and especially in areas outside their narrow sub-discipline. The adoption of the false, anti-Semitic, pro-Apartheid, genocide-ignoring and holocaust-ignoring IHRA Definition of antisemitism by Melbourne University threatens the free speech of academics and students alike. When all 43 Australian universities adopt the IHRA Definition all Australian academics and all Australian university students (local and overseas) will be subject to discipline if their expressed views depart from the Zionist- and Apartheid Israel-promulgated Definition. Secret commercial-in-confidence arrangements increasingly constrain academic and student free speech.
(vii). Academic constraint and mendacious Mainstream media. Universities exist to do research, teach and inform the public. Academic constraint, Mainstream media mendacity, and a consequently horribly misinformed public threaten Australian democracy. However lying by commission and omission by foreign-influenced Australian universities also violate the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Act 2018 which criminalises foreign interference and strengthens Australia’s ability to successfully prosecute acts of espionage. Cowardly academic constraint also violates the spirit of Section 44 of the Australian Constitution that also seeks to minimize malignant foreign interference in Australian public life.
(viii). Lack of tenure, fear and “the “enemy within”. Academics invest everything into their intellectual pursuits and careers, but prevailing lack of tenure is a source of self-censorship (things are bad enough without exciting further hatred from the “Managers”). In the 1950s and 1960s Tasmanian, Australian and indeed Commonwealth academics acted to oppose the dismissal of 1 academic, Sydney Sparkes Orr, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Tasmania (see John Polya and Robert Solomon, “Dreyfus in Australia”). Yet during the COVID-19 Pandemic 40,000 university staff were sacked in Australia by the philistine Coalition Government, throwing an enormous scholarly edifice onto the scrap heap. The “enemy within” Australian universities, specifically illiberal and censorious partisan academics, students and especially “management academics” (refugees from scholarship” running our present money-driven corporatized universities), are presently attacking academic and student free speech. Thus when elected students at Melbourne University and Sydney University, formerly the 2 top Australian universities, condemned Israeli Apartheid they were falsely defamed as “antisemites” by university management. This false defamation has a threatening and deadening impact on academic and student free speech, notwithstanding rejection of the IHRA Definition of antisemitism by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU).
(ix). Expertly advocated mendacity and an ignoring culture. John Perkins’ book “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” describes how he was transparently recruited as a new graduate to lie as an economic hit man, and spent a corporate lifetime doing exactly that, but he sadly concluded that today business and commerce university students are taught that corporations have a primary fiduciary duty to their shareholders and should deceive others to that end (aka “strategy”, “marketing”, “competitive edge”). Indeed Polya’s Three Laws of Economics (that mirror the 3 Laws of Thermodynamics fundamental to chemistry and physics) are that (1) Price – Cost of Production (COP) = Profit, (2) Deceit about COP trends to a maximum, and (3) no Price, COP or Profit on a dead planet (the looming outcome of terracidal neoliberalism). The corresponding 3 laws of Thermodynamics are (1) the energy of a closed system remains constant, (2) entropy (disorder, lack of information content) increases to a maximum, and (3) zero intramolecular motion at absolute zero Kelvin (-273.15 degrees Celsius). As we head towards catastrophe, the people, politicians and economic experts all ignore the Elephant in the Room reality that while the “damage-related Price” of greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution is $200 per tonne CO2, the global average applied Carbon Price is merely $2 per tonne CO2. The world is existentially threatened by nuclear weapons and climate change, with Professor Stephen Hawking stating: “We see great peril if governments and societies do not take action now to render nuclear weapons obsolete and to prevent further climate change”. Yet the nuclear threat is worsening, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have moved the Doomsday Clock to 90 seconds to midnight, and key global GHG pollution indicators are remorseless increasing instead of decreasing.
(x) English Law versus the Natural Law, legal threat, and lack of a Bill of Rights guaranteeing free speech. At Hobart High School (“the best school of all”) in Tasmania in the optimistic 1950s we were asked to reflect: “Is it true, is it nice, is it necessary?” The Natural Law can be reduced to 2 words: Kindness and Truth (although there are common social situations in which telling the truth might be unkind). English law can be reduced to “laws by and for the rich”. Indeed presently as we head towards catastrophe (a catastrophic plus 2C of warming is now effectively inevitable) the top 1% owns 50% of the wealth, the bottom 50% owns 1% of the wealth, and this awful and deadly disparity (backed by the IT and AI power of the Surveillance State) is remorselessly increasing. Academic free speech is heavily constrained by intramural Codes of Conduct administered by Management, and extramurally by defamation laws and “lawfare”. Australia needs a Bill of Rights guaranteeing free speech (as with the First Amendment of the US Constitution).
(C ). What can be done to protect and maximize free speech and particularly academic free speech in Australia and the world?
(i). Ideally everybody should be able to say what they want as in the US, with freedom from prosecution except in cases of the most egregious and damaging falsehood.
(ii). Academics should have free speech protection akin to the Parliamentary Privilege of MPs. MPs benefit from lying especially in the new global culture of political lying (Jack Profumo resigned from Parliament over 1 white lie; George W. Bush told 935 lies about Iraq; and Donald Trump told 30,000 lies in 4 years as president ) (see Bernard Keane, “Lies and Falsehood”). In contrast, academics who abuse the system by lying would lose their invaluable reputations.
(iii). The only punishment for public falsehood should be the ignominy of expert public exposure (ideally by expert-informed judicial findings in serious cases).
(iv). Australians (and people in similarly abused countries) should resolutely expose and oppose censorship of academics and students in the interests of mendacious, genocidally racist and neo-Nazi Apartheid Israel.
(v). We should publicly assert that universities that censor free speech are unfit for our children.
Dr Gideon Polya taught science students at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia over 4 decades. He published some 130 works in a 5 decade scientific career, notably a huge pharmacological reference text “Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds”. He has also published “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950” (2007, 2022) and “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History” (1998, 2008, 2023). He has recently published “US-imposed Post-9-11 Muslim Holocaust & Muslim Genocide” (2020), and “Climate Crisis, Climate Genocide & Solutions” (2020), and contributed to Soren Korsgaard (editor) “The Most Dangerous Book Ever Published – Dangerous Deception Exposed!” (2020). For images of Gideon Polya’s huge paintings for the Planet, Peace, Mother and Child see: http://sites.google.com/site/artforpeaceplanetmotherchild/ .