Freedom of expression on campus Bill needed more than ever

Fri, 08 Apr, 2022

“New research showing the apprehension Kiwi academics have to speak freely at New Zealand universities highlights the urgent need for my Member’s Bill requiring tertiary education institutions to protect freedom of expression,” says ACT MP Dr James McDowall.

“Curia research commissioned by the Free Speech Union showed almost half of academics are concerned about raising differing perspectives or discussing issues related to gender and sex, while half don’t feel like they’re free to debate or discuss Treaty issues.

“This is deeply concerning. Freedom of expression and academic freedom are critical values for institutions of higher learning. If we allow these values to be eroded then our best and brightest will lose their ability to debate and challenge the status quo, which is essential for any democratic functioning society.

“The Education (Freedom of Expression) Amendment Bill was drawn from the Ballot last year and will ensure tertiary education institutions like universities are funded by taxpayers for the purpose of freely and openly inquiring into ideas.

“Tertiary education institutions are required by the Education Act 1989 and the Bill of Rights Act 1990 to uphold academic freedom and freedom of expression, but it is currently not a condition of funding that institutions adhere to these requirements.

“As a result, we’ve seen universities de-platform speakers and cancel events citing ‘mental harm’ to students.

“Essentially, there are no consequences if an institution actively inhibits freedom of expression without legitimate cause.

“My Bill requires that tertiary education institutions protect freedom of expression, including by issuing codes of practice that set out the procedures students and staff should follow to uphold freedom of expression, and by ensuring that the requirements of codes of practice are met.

"Tertiary education institutions will not be allowed to rely on their duty to eliminate or minimise potential risk of mental harm to students, staff, or visitors under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 as a reason not to comply with their duty to ensure freedom of speech.

"Tertiary education institutions will be ineligible for funding, and may have funding suspended, revoked, or withdrawn, if they fail to comply with the requirement to protect freedom of expression.

“I encourage the Government to address this growing problem across our academic institutions and adopt my Member’s Bill.”