UK High Commissioner George Brandis has replied to British MPs concerned about Drew Pavlou's case. Image by Dan Peled/AAP PHOTOS

Education

Pavlou UQ suspension saddens Brandis

2020-07-17 14:44:39

Australia’s highest representative in the United Kingdom has written to a British MP who expressed concerns over the University of Queensland’s suspension of an outspoken student activist critical of Beijing.  

It has been revealed that on July 13 George Brandis, Australia’s High Commissioner to the UK, wrote to British MP Andrew Rosindell in response to the conservative politician’s letter about UQ’s disciplinary action taken against Drew Pavlou.

Mr Brandis said it “greatly saddens” him that UQ, of which he is both an alumnus and former academic staff member, should have attracted this “unfavourable notice”.

Mr Brandis also attended the same Catholic private school in Brisbane – Villanova College – as Mr Pavlou.

“During my time as a Parliamentarian in Australia … I was always at the forefront of the protection of freedom of speech and intellectual freedom — causes to which the current Australian Government is deeply committed,” the former attorney-general wrote in a letter seen by AAP. 

“I hope that the matter of Mr Pavlou is ultimately resolved in a way that both honours the University of Queensland’s fine academic traditions and protects those essential values.”

Mr Pavlou was in May suspended from UQ for two years following a disciplinary hearing that examined 11 allegations of misconduct reportedly linked to his on-campus activism supporting Hong Kong and criticising the Chinese Communist Party.

The 21-year-old arts and philosophy student had his suspension reduced to one semester on Monday, several days after Mr Rosindell’s letter to Mr Brandis. Mr Rosindell co-wrote the letter with left-leaning UK House of Lords member Natalie Bennett.

Mr Pavlou has vowed to take the matter to Queensland’s Supreme Court and said he is confident of winning on appeal. 

“I crash or crash through,” he told AAP on Thursday. 

In a webinar this week hosted by the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong, Mr Pavlou thanked the British MPs for their “tremendous intervention” but said his situation marked a “shocking moment in history”. 

“The Chinese government has harassed me, bullied me and tried to silence me and my family for questioning that 20 per cent of my university’s revenue comes from China and that this may repress free speech and academic freedom,” he said. 

“Both myself and my family have received threats of extreme violence for speaking out in defence of my academic rights and of the fundamental rights of others.”

Following the reduction of Mr Pavlou’s suspension on Monday, UQ Chancellor Peter Varghese said the findings of misconduct against the final-year student did not concern his “personal or political views about China or Hong Kong”. 

“The University has consistently said that no student should be penalised for the lawful expression of personal views,” Mr Varghese said in a statement.

“This should finally put to rest the false allegations that this process has been an attack on freedom of expression.”

UQ has faced media scrutiny for its relations with the Chinese government, which has co-funded four courses offered there.

The institution is also home to one of Australia’s many Confucius Institutes, Beijing-funded education centres which critics allege promote propaganda.