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News / Australia: Union wins appeal in case testing academic freedom

News / Australia: Union wins appeal in case testing academic freedom

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Academic staff at the University of Sydney have an enforceable right to “intellectual freedom” under the terms of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) collective workplace agreement, the Federal Court of Australia ruled at the end of August.

The Court’s judgment resulted from an appeal brought by NTEU and a former member, Tim Anderson, against the University of Sydney. Anderson was dismissed from his tenured position at the University in 2019, over controversial views he publicly expressed.

Asserting the primacy of the union collective agreement over the University’s code of conduct, the National Tertiary Education Industry Union vs. University of Sydney judgment found that: “The right of intellectual freedom expressly includes the right to express unpopular or controversial views. The expression of such views is bound to cause offence to some, perhaps even many, people. It may also cause ‘objective’ offence in the sense that the taking of offence to the expression of unpopular or controversial views may be objectively reasonable in all of the circumstances.”

In celebrating the Court’s decision, NTEU General Secretary Matthew McGowan said: “Universities must stop being obsessed with protecting their reputations and their ‘brands’ and start ensuring their staff are provided with the freedom to do their important work.”

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