Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 20, No. 7. 30th May, 1957
University Under Fire:—Premier Fired
University Under Fire:—Premier Fired
On the 24th April the Queensland Central Executive of the Australian Labour Party voted to expel the Premier of Queensland, Mr. Gair, from the Party. The result is a deep split in the State Party and the possibility of a non-labour government for the first time in 25 years after the election which this action has forced.
The ostensible reason for this apparent self-wrecking by the State A.L.P. was that the Government had failed to carry out a Conference decision that legislation should be passed enforcing three weeks' annual leave for workers. But there is obviously more to the crisis than that.
And the move is closely related to two recent and highly controversial Bills: the Petrol Bill and University Acts Amendment Bill. This latter has received little attention in New Zealand and yet it is of a most extraordinary nature. We would not be surprised to meet it in South Africa or some totalitarian country, but in a firmly established democracy and our nearest neghbour it is a blow to all those who do net realise how slimly even we hang on to democracy. Shoulder to shoulder staff and students have shown a solid front against this Act. Certain features of it are desirable, but the setting up of an Appeals Board is a direct attack on academic freedom. Rumour goes that the Board is the result of a disgruntled friend of the Premier's failing to obtain a chair.
The conservative Sydney Morning Herald on April 4 editorialised: "In one important respect the University of Queensland will soon be unique among the universities of the British Commonwealth. It will lack unfettered discretion to appoint or promote its own staff. This dubious and unwanted distinction is conferred upon it by the Queensland Government's University Acts Amendment Bill, which has now passed through all stages and requires only royal assent (since granted but the Act is still unproclaimed).
The Bill provides for a three-man appeal board presided oyer by a Government-appointed chairman, the other two members representing the Senate and the appellant (and therefore, in practice, cancelling each other out). Its decision will be final in all University of Queensland will be dealt appeals against appointments, promotions, and punishments. . . . The a damaging blow by the loss of its right to self-government—a right which is, or should be, basic to any university worthy of the name.
No convincing reason for the introduction of the Bill emerged from the debate. It was not explained why a Government-appointed chairman's decision would be preferable to that of the University Senate whose 27 members, oddly enough, include 14 Government nominees. The Premier, Mr. Gair, was vague and evasive . . . (he seems to be) singularly ignorant of the functions of a university."
The university acted rapidly against this outrage. The Staff Association issued a long statement to Semper Floreat, the students' paper, in which they say: "The existence of such a Board of Appeal is a direct threat to the Academic independence of the University" and pointed out that they had never requested or desired such a Board. "It is certain that the existence of such a Board will affect the quality of the University's staff by discouraging scholars of high quality from overseas to apply. (The Association) knows that in the knowledge that their confidential reports on candidates will probably be made public, in the event of an appeal referees will be inclined not to display the frankness which is essential for a proper assessment of the relative merits of applicants." On behalf of the 30,000 students of Australia, the President of N.U.A.U.S., Mr. Thomas, stated that the setting up of the board is an infringement of University autonomy—autonomy which is essential for the proper discharge of a University's duties.
On April 6 300 students, armed with petition forms, and a pamphlet giving a concise statement of the University's case, solicited signatures in over about a quarter of Brisbane. The result was most impressive: 32,000 signatures. On April 8, 2,500 people turned out to hear an imposing gallery of speakers put the University's case in the City Hall. Representatives from other Universities attacked the measure, and details were given of telegraphic support received from these universities. A motion of disapproval of the objectionable clauses was passed with only one dissent.
Deputations waited on the Premier and the Minister for Education, the Liberal and Country Parties (the tion), they approached the Press and the radio.
And the Result?
Since Mr. Gair sided with the Right Wing at the A.L.P. Conference in Hobart two years ago, the militants in the Queensland Party have been after his head. Recently Mr. Gair and Caucus defied a renewed L.P. directive that he legislate to give State employees three weeks' annual leave. Then there came the Petrol and University Bills: the central executive complained that they had not been consulted, and the President, Mr. Bukowski said, that the whole Labour movement would have to bear some stigma from the two Bills. The Loft Wing of the party joined with such unusual fellows as the Sydney Morning Herald in their opposition to the Bills. Eventually Mr. Gair was expelled and formed his own party of over half the Labour members in the Legislative Assembly. Elections will he forced when Parliament meets, and the Gair Party is almost certain to face extinction. (Mr. Gair's own seat will be in jeopardy.) One would sympathise more with his valiant attempts to withstand outside pressure if he had not shown blatant ignorance and prejudice against the basic concepts of a University; if there were not such unpleasant stories of the boundaries being so rigged that a united Labour Party could not be defeated; if there were not ugly rumours about the Premier receiving or being offered money from outside vested interests; if his former associates, including his second in command had not premised as their first step if they gain office to investigate stories of malpractice, etc.
To a certain degree it seems likely that the determined and almost unanimous actions of the University, with unprecedented staff-student co-operation, and widespread public appeal, helped bring down a Government that few will mourn.
"Last week, we were a proud University.
"This week, because of the whim of ignorant and scared politicians, because of the mute inadequacy of back-benchers, because of ambitious nepotism, because of fear, because of jealousy, we are apparently doomed, doomed to an intellectual concentration camp.
"In one day a party of fools cut us off from a tradition of more than eight centuries.
"Our only comfort is that in time we are not the first to be burnt on the altar of a government's bigotry; and where others have survived to triumph, we will survive." ("Hadrian" in the 28th March issue of Semper Floreat, U.Q. Students' Union newspaper.)