On September 1, 2022, student protesters intervened to shut down a University of Sydney Law Society speaker series event featuring former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
As Turnbull began to speak, protesters entered the room and stood in the crowd and on stage. Some protesters used megaphones to jeer and shout criticism at Turnbull and the policies he enacted during his tenure while he stood at the front of the room. At one point, one of the protesters reportedly said, “We will never let a former Liberal Prime Minister come here on campus and speak to students who he’s fucked over so much.” Due to the protesters’ actions, Turnbull left the venue and the event was moved online. Police soon after ordered protesters and audience members to vacate the venue. The event was later held online.
Following the incident, a university spokesperson stated, “Attempts to shut down speakers who have been invited to participate in an exchange of views and ideas breaches core values of our university and we will be investigating the issue further.”
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the effective cancellation of an academic event by members of the higher education community. While students have the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, including the right to protest content and events with which they disagree, they must exercise those rights responsibly and with respect for the free expression rights and academic freedom of other members of the higher education community and society at large. Attempts to shut down campus events and discourse undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.
*SAR identified this incident in data made publicly available by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED)