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This Policy Paper recommends how and why a ‘university freedom charters’ policy that is backed with financial penalties for non-compliance with free speech ‘best practice’ might operate to actively spur Australian universities to implement appropriate measures to address anti-free speech disruptive behaviour and properly protect freedom of thought and expression. This proposal for a new regulatory and compliance framework featuring greater external accountability for universities as the best way to promote free speech, is heavily drawn from the similar policy introduced in 2018 in the Canadian province of Ontario.
The reasons an ‘Ontario-style’ policy is needed in Australia are explained in terms of overcoming an evident and interrelated lack of institutional will within universities, and lack of political will within governments, to take appropriate action regarding protections for free speech on campus. This paper also explains why the recommended policy is superior to recent proposals for Australian universities to voluntarily adopt ‘Chicago-style’ charters, and to recent calls for the federal parliament to legislate ‘US-style’ campus free speech laws: these options would respectively leave universities to either self-regulate free speech, or be subject to only weak free speech accountabilities.
Hence the robust regulatory and compliance approach adopted by the Ontario Government is explored at length to outline how and why our federal government should emulate that approach and implement compulsory freedom charters to ensure Australian universities are properly accountable for encouraging and maintaining free speech on campus.