Australian Catholic University commits to free speech code

Australian Catholic University (ACU) will move to adopt a free speech code, based on the model code drafted by former High Court Chief Justice The Hon Robert French AC.

ACU Chancellor The Hon John Fahey AC and Vice-Chancellor Professor Greg Craven AO GCSG said the university fundamentally supported freedom of expression and academic inquiry.

“ACU strongly believes that universities exist to provide a forum for a contest of ideas,” Mr Fahey said.

Professor Craven said he had asked the university’s General Counsel to produce a draft code that formalises ACU’s commitment to an environment that encourages such a contest to flourish.

“In democratic societies, universities fulfil an essential role in facilitating independent thought and open debate,” Professor Craven said.

The proposed ACU code will be modelled closely on the French code and, as envisaged by Mr French in his associated report,* will be adapted to suit the university’s characteristics and mission.

“The code will serve as a touchstone document that provides members of the university community with certainty and clarity around freedom of speech,” Professor Craven said.

“Of course, freedom of speech is never limitless. This is precisely the role of a well-drafted principles-based code – to guarantee free expression, regardless of whether it is popular, while also setting out the necessary framework for it to thrive.”

Mr Fahey stated that, once drafting is complete, the code will be taken to ACU’s Senate for endorsement.

“As the university’s governing body, ACU’s Senate will consider the code and its relationship with existing university regulations,” Mr Fahey said.

“I anticipate that, if supported, the implementation of the code will require a wholesale review of all university statutes and policies that may interact with the code.

“I believe this full and detailed review will be the most practically important part of the exercise,” Mr Fahey said.

“It is easy enough for a university to adopt a code, but the real effect will be in its comprehensive implementation.”

The code will be available via ACU’s website once approved by Senate.

* Report of the Independent Review of Freedom of Speech in Australian Higher Education Providers, March 2019, p14.

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