Statement: NSW Council for Civil Liberties condemns Sydney University "Campus Access Policy"

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties opposes in the strongest terms the newly announced “Campus Access Policy 2024”.  We proudly stand beside students and staff at Sydney University in the fight to protect their right to protest.

We are astounded that Sydney University would join with state governments and large corporations in Australia who seek to encroach on the right of public assembly and to shut down free speech. The University, which can boast a proud history of facilitating free speech and protest on campus should not be part of problem.

Under Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the right to peaceful assembly shall be recognised. No restrictions may be imposed unless the protest is an imposition to national security, public safety, public order, the protection of public health, morals or the rights and freedoms of others. The University should respect and protect this essential democratic right, not create unreasonable and disproportionate rules which seek to prevent free speech and protest actions from happening on campus.

Mandating that protestors must give notice to the University Administration in advance and seek permission if they want to use any sort of amplification is a dramatic departure from the previous rules and has been implemented without consultation with any affected parties. It is a disgrace and a direct attack on the role protest plays in protecting and maintaining our democracy.

Comments from Lydia Shelly, President, NSW Council for Civil Liberties

It is not protestors who should be considered radical or extreme, it is the policy of the university that is an affront to the democratic principles universities should be fostering - not banning. Student protests on campus have a long history and occur in the spirit of academic freedom and the free flow of ideas in educational institutions.

Protests on campus supporting land rights, opposing conscription, apartheid, war, human rights abuses and calling for real action on climate change all position students firmly on the right side of history. Protest as an expression of free speech should be welcomed on university campuses as one of the hallmarks of flourishing intellectual communities.

It is extremely concerning that in 2024, in a time when freedoms are declining across the world, that a so called leading educational institution would be pushing undemocratic policies that seek to crush dissent, difference of opinions and political beliefs.

The position taken by the university is shameful and disregards every sacrifice made by past students and past academics who have fought to make our nation a more inclusive and just society. Universities should protect and champion the right to protest, not be protagonists in curtailing, demonising and criminalising protests.

These new rules are unreasonable and disproportionate giving excessive discretion to protective services and the vice chancellor. We call for their immediate reversal.