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Reclaim Australia Pressures University Into Refusing Anti-War Event

Dom Ellis on Michael Spence’s flexible approach to freedom of speech.

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The University of Sydney has refused to play host to an anti-war talk on Anzac Day, after members of nationalist group Reclaim Australia threatened to disrupt it.

The meeting, originally planned for Sunday April 26 and entitled ‘Anzac Day, the glorification of militarism and the drive to World War III’, was organised by the Socialist Equality Party (SEP).

‘The Great Aussie Patriot’, a Facebook page run by Sherman Burgess—the national events organiser of extreme right-wing group Reclaim Australia—was quick to pick up on the event, posting an image of a flyer for the debate (which was originally to take place in Burwood) and calling the party “pure Left Wing filth”. Followers were then encouraged to “gatecrash the meeting” in a post that was shared 187 times, which included demands for “traitors to be deported”.

SEP national secretary James Cogan told Honi that, “You can’t expect us to accept that a so called bastion of intellectual freedom will prevent us from doing what we’ve done numerous times and hold a public lecture in their facilities because of claims that there is going to be some sort of disturbance”.

“There was the potential of disruption at the lecture given by Colonel Kemp and that meeting was not cancelled, instead, what the university did was increase security…and that was a correct decision on their part.”

“You don’t suppress freedom of speech because of threats of protest or disruption from people who don’t believe in what’s being said—democratic principles apply.”

Just days ago, in response to the Kemp protest, Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence spearheaded a campaign promoting freedom of speech, stating, “We must be a place in which debate on key issues of public significance can take place, and in which strongly held views can be freely expressed on all sides.”

However, the university told Cogan that the “potential for disruption to activities” was the reason for the cancellation.

“To turn around and refuse our hire request amounts to them joining with Burwood Council [who originally cancelled SEP’s event at Burwood Library Auditorium] in political censorship and it accommodates the demands of Reclaim Australia”

A spokesperson for the university said that they are “not aware of any contact from any person claiming to represent the Reclaim Australia group”.

“[The event] poses a significant risk of disruption to students and staff attending other University-related activities which are occurring on campus on the same day”, the spokesperson said.

The venue for the equivalent talk in Melbourne also received threats from nationalist protesters. However, Cogan told Honi that the Melbourne venue has increased security rather than abandon the event.