Legislative Council: Wednesday, October 18, 2023


Establishment of Adelaide University

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (14:48): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the Attorney-General, representing the Minister for Education, on the topic of the university merger deal.

Leave granted.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: This morning, the government announced that they have struck a deal with One Nation and the Hon. Connie Bonaros to support the university merger. One Nation's education 'policy' states:

One Nation will restore critical thinking in the classroom and reinstate the cornerstone of education with reading, writing, arithmetic, and discipline. There should be no room for Western, white, gender, guilt shaming in any classroom and instead children should be taught the benefits of a merit-based, free-thinking society.

In 2020, Pauline Hanson of the One Nation party did a deal with the then Morrison government on the Higher Education Support Act 2003, which included a freedom of speech clause for academics. It was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald at the time that the One Nation amendment would make it harder for universities to discipline racist or sexist academics.

A submission from seven institutions, including La Trobe University, Western Sydney University and James Cook University, opposed the changes and stated that it would seem that a university academic would be within her or his rights to publicly declare they hold a racist, sexual or gendered prejudice against one or more of the students they are teaching. My question to the Attorney-General therefore is:

1. Can the government clarify whether the One Nation education policy was considered as part of its negotiations with One Nation with regard to the university merger?

2. Will the government rule out inclusion of a One Nation freedom of speech clause similar to that that the party proposed at a federal level in any state university act?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:50): I thank the honourable member for his question. He certainly has been a well-known advocate on his views for what he sees as best for the education sector in South Australia. I think most of us have a similar aim in looking at what is best for education and higher education in South Australia.

Obviously, I haven't been involved in discussions in relation to this area. I did see media reports this morning to the effect that people who have been reported as supporting the proposal to create one university out of what are now the universities of Adelaide and South Australia have considered the proposals on their merits and what is best for South Australia, particularly those like the honourable member, who have had the benefit of a great deal of information and evidence through what I understand has been a pretty thorough committee process looking at this.

However, I am happy to refer the question on to, I think, the minister for higher education in the other place and see if there is anything that she wishes to add to that.