Menzies Institute silent on free speech threat at Melbourne University

There’s a really interesting stoush shaping up at Melbourne University, with two student campaigns setting the agenda, and threatening to put vice-chancellor Duncan Maskell in a huge jam. And not just him.

For months there’s been a growing movement against the Menzies Institute, the co-pro between right-wing thinktank the Menzies Research Centre, and the Uni. It was initially thought that the initiative was by Maskell, a pro-business VC, whose field is (we kid you not) the salmonella bacteria – so at least he knows culture. In fact it seems to have been an initiative of former VC Glyn Davis – perhaps thought up in the Glyn Davis Building, now sited on the Melbourne Uni campus.

It was claimed that the new Menzies Institute would be modelled on the Whitlam Institute at Western Sydney Uni, but that’s, as our Sir Robert would have said, pure shit. It’s headed by failed Mayo candidate Georgie Downer, sprog of Lexxy, and someone for whom right-wingers are going to have to find a job for, for quite some time to come. The board includes former Howard minister and political warrior (yes, and academic) David Kemp, and, god help us, Peta Credlin. 

Warriors against political correctness all. So what will they say about VC Maskell’s acquiescence to demands by the student union’s queer officers, that allegedly transphobic language be banned from campus. The target of the move is philosopher Holly Lawford Smith, a sex/gender realist. The Queer officers want Lawford-Smith’s a course offered by Lawford-Smith banned. Maskell seems to have acquiesced to the spirit of that, piloting through a policy which includes:

Where the university determines that an activity or event poses an unacceptable risk of harm to [transgender and gender-diverse] members of the university community, it may determine not to conduct or host the activity or event on those grounds (in accordance with the provisions of the Freedom of Speech Policy).

No-one knows what will happen if there’s a challenge to Lawford-Smith’s teaching on those grounds.

And there’s no word from the Menzies Institute on where they stand either. Will they undermine their business friendly vice-chancellor before the whole thing has even got off the ground?