House debates

Monday, 22 March 2021


Foreign Interference in Universities

5:58 pm

Photo of George ChristensenGeorge Christensen (Dawson, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

The alarming level of foreign interference in our universities and educational institutions leaves us incredibly vulnerable as a nation. In my view, enabling foreign states to exert influence over the education of our young people is a near treasonous act, as is allowing Australian research and technology to fall into the hands of a bad-acting foreign power or, worse, developing technology for that foreign power.

In the last yea, we have seen the revelation of the Chinese Communist Party's Thousand Talents Plan, a state push to poach the finest scientific minds from around the world in order to supercharge communist China's technological advancement, particularly in the military sector. Not only does this pose a threat to our national security; the threat is coming in part from our own universities. It also robs Australia of home-grown innovations which could have significant economic benefits for the country. These universities receive billions of dollars in taxpayers' funds. These professors develop their ideas through taxpayer funded government grants, and then those ideas are shipped off to Communist China to potentially be used against us. It's sickening.

There are also 14 Confucius Institutes in Australia. These so-called Chinese language and cultural centres are set up through partnerships between Australian universities and Hanban, an organisation directly under the CCP Ministry of Education. Thus, the CCP essentially controls what is taught in Confucius Institutes, and you can guess that neither Tiananmen Square Massacre nor the ongoing Uighur genocide get a mention. This is pro-CCP education or indoctrination on our shores. The purpose of these institutes is to promote a positive image of the CCP and its policies in our nation and throughout the world.

The university model in Australia has become largely dependent on foreign students and, in particular, Chinese students. In 2019, approximately 211,000 of the 756,000 international students in Australia were from China. A former University of Queensland vice-chancellor, Peter Hoj was quoted as saying that without Chinese money Australian universities would be plunged into 'Dickensian' conditions.

In 2019, the UQ student Drew Pavlou was leading a demonstration against the CCP's treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang when he was surrounded physically and assaulted by pro-CCP activists. Brisbane's Chinese consul-general and UQ adjunct professor Xu Jie publicly accused Mr Pavlou of being an anti-Chinese separatist, an accusation which is actually a capitalist offence in China. This caused a wave of death threats and online abuse directed at Drew and his family. He was subsequently suspended for minor infractions, apparently not related to his political activities. But here is a young man who took it upon himself to stand up for human rights abuses of a foreign totalitarian communist regime, and what's the result? Does this university, a place where free thought and altruism are supposed to be encouraged, support him? No; it condemns him. They don't condemn the death threats, they don't condemn the assaults, they don't condemn the consul-general incitement, they don't condemn the genocide of Uighurs even by the CCP, instead they condemn Drew Pavlou and instead they spent $300,000 on legal fees to fight cases brought against them by Drew Pavlou. Did they any spend money on finding or investigating who punched one of their students in the face during a peaceful protest on campus? Of course they didn't. Why? Because the university depends so much on Chinese money that it would condemn a law-abiding student than risk being seen to take sides against their biggest source of income, which happens to be a genocidal totalitarian communist state.

It's not just the CCP. In 2008 the University of Griffith sought $1.3 million from the Saudi embassy to pay for its Islamic campus and offered the opportunity for the embassy to reshape its Islamic research unit. This raised fears within the community, particularly amongst Muslims, that the university would allow itself to become a centre for the propagation of Wahhabism. What the uni did not know was that this funding was part of a larger project by the Saudis for the gradual and secret promotion of Islamism on a global scale. This includes through our education institutes, academic centres and think tanks. We cannot allow this foreign-state-sponsored infiltration of our universities to continue.

I recently tabled a report in this place, as a chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth, the Pivot report, which actually said to the government: force universities to disclose foreign funding that they receive and block that funding if it's not in the national interest. This has already begun, with the government starting the world's first universities' foreign interference task force in 2019, but we can't take our eyes off the issue.


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