University reinstates Safe Schools founder after legal threat
The Australian, June 4, 2016
La Trobe University has buckled to legal pressure over its decision to suspend Safe Schools co-founder Roz Ward for controversial comments about the Australian flag by reinstating her.
The extraordinary backflip came just hours after law firm Maurice Blackburn, backed by the National Tertiary Education Union, threatened to take the matter to court, claiming that Ms Ward’s suspension for alleged misconduct contravened the Fair Work Act, Victoria’s equal opportunity laws and the university’s own enterprise agreement.
In a statement last night, vice- chancellor John Dewar said the university did not accept it had acted unlawfully but it was “not in the university’s interests to be engaged in a high-profile and protracted legal dispute”.
Ms Ward, a prominent figure in Victoria’s Marxism movement, was suspended pending the outcome of an investigation on Wednesday following revelations in The Australian she had criticised the flag as racist, calling for a “red one” favoured by socialists.
The comments were condemned by the Victorian government and the opposition and Ms Ward, who has been overseeing the rollout of the Safe Schools program to all Victorian schools, was forced to resign from her role on a government education advisory committee. In a letter to La Trobe vice-chancellor John Dewar, employment lawyer Josh Bornstein gave the university until Monday to withdraw allegations of misconduct or face legal action. “Constraining Ms Ward’s right to express a political opinion because of the unreasonable and unfounded reaction of particular sections of the media, and the public to that opinion, stifles public debate [and] gives in to fear and ignorance,” the letter says.
However, Professor Dewar said the university had acted as it did, not because Ms Ward’s comments were political, but because they were made at a time, and in a context, when there was intense scrutiny of Safe Schools.