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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 16 February 2019
OPINION 24 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 16 FEBRUARY 2019 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM What happened when I was banned from a free speech debate on campus ANGELOS SOFOCLEOUS It's clear that our universities have a problem with free speech. We've recently witnessed students at the University of Oxford not only protesting Steve Bannon's appearance at Oxford Union, but attempting to prevent others from even attending the talk. Only last week, Peter Hitchens had a talk he was due to give cancelled at the University of Portsmouth because the university felt that this would not chime with the students' union's LGBT+ month. I've also fallen foul of this tendency towards censorship on campus: when I shared a Spectator article in November asking 'Is it a crime to say women don't have penises?', I lost my position as presidentelect of humanist students as well as my role as assistant editor of Durham University's philosophy society's undergraduate journal, Critique. So I was looking forward to addressing these points at a panel event this week on 'free speech on campus' organised by the University of Bristol free speech society. Unfortunately, I've now been de-platformed. Bristol students' union refused to accept me as a speaker, forcing the free speech society to cancel their invitation to me in fear that my presence might spark protests. The SU went on to claim that "public disorder is highly likely." No matter where you lie on the political spectrum, it is deeply worrying that people are being banned from talking at events – and students deterred from coming into contact with particular points of view. This censorship and tendency for banning raises big implications about the aims of the groups or institutions who advance such tactics. What's more, it's obvious that this fear of debate is only getting worse on Britain's campuses. After all, nothing could provide a Angelos Sofocleous is a student at Durham University. more ironic indication of the current status of social justice orthodoxy in academia than preventing a speaker from talking at an event on 'free speech on campus'. So what's the real reason for this fear of voices that don't conform to the norms of political correctness? Increasingly it looks like those who would seek to prevent such speakers from appearing on campuses do so because of their own shortcomings. Could it be the social justice groups mobilise against individuals or groups they don't know how to respond to? Whether that is the case, it's hard to know without the debate actually taking place. But one thing is clear: universities are letting down their students. Universities are supposed to be places where young people get their views challenged, have the opportunity to change their worldview, and face criticism for their beliefs, especially the most deeply-held ones. But the way that universities and student unions are succumbing to the demands of a surprisingly small minority is damaging academic debate. It is also harming research, dialogue, and the healthy ex- Julia Banks’ shining hour A late bloomer when it comes to politics, the Greek Australian MP is ending her first parliamentary term leaving a much greater legacy than one would have imagined NIKOS FOTAKIS For the majority of the Greek Australian community - those of them, at least, who bother to follow politics - Julia Banks will forever be remembered as the MP who brought a sitting Prime Minister to Oakleigh, in July 2016. It was not a coincidence. Having just secured his reelection, Malcolm Turnbull decided to celebrate his victory with a cup of Greek coffee, among the constituents who made this victory possible, in a symbolic gesture of acknowledgement that his government was indebted to the successful campaign of this newly elected Greek Australian MP. After all, Julia Banks was the only Coalition candidate who managed to take a seat from Labor, in 2016 even by a margin of 1.6 percent. That was a significant accomplishment for a new MP - and for the next couple of years it probably remained her sole political accomplishment. Her tenure as a Coalition MP had been unremarkable - which is not unusual, of course; apart from a loud minority of heavily promoted by the media MPs, most of the parliamentarians are colourless and odourless unknowns, grey faces whose lives are spent in boring discussions and exhausting paperwork. Then the leadership spill happened - and out of the ashes of the Turnbull government, a new Julia Banks arose, phoenix-like. During these months, not even half a year ago, the now-independent MP managed to make a greater impact on the Australian politics than anyone would have imagined when she won a seat in the house - and arguably more than most of the sitting MPs could claim for themselves. Her first shining moment came, of course, with her resignation from the Liberal Party, which she accused of condoning a sexist culture that allowed for her to be bullied during the party's leadership spill. And then the Medical Evacuation bill was voted this week, becoming a federal law that allows doctors to finally get to give sick people in detention centres the care and treatment they need. Introduced by Independent MP Kerry Phelps - who, let's not forget, won the seat evacuated by Malcolm Turnbull - and lodged with the support of Julia Banks, the bill united the opposition parties and independents. The vote to ratify it effectively became a moment of historical significance, marking the first time in 90 years a sitting government loses a vote on its own legislation. That is something that mostly concerns - and affects - small-time politics really, and it proves the viewpoint of those who believe that Julia Banks is Malcolm Turnbull's 'Lady Vengeance' - a rather derogatory and sexist term (more on that later). The Medevac law also marks the first time a crack appears in the otherwise cemented 'operation sovereign borders' policy that has 'stopped the boats' but also seen Australia criticised for human rights violations from the United Nations' Human Rights Commission, which has called for offshore detention to stop. change of ideas upon which our universities depend. We are damned if we deny people their freedom to even debate freedom of speech. And whether we are on campus or not, we will all end up paying the price for the troubling attacks on free speech that are becoming more common at our universities. Cypriot Angelos Sofocleous, aged 24, a student at Durham University, has been sacked from writing at the university's philosophy journal in the UK just three days after taking on the assistant editor position after his activities on Twitter were deemed to be transphobic. The young student was also banned from participating on the panel of a 'free speech' event due to take place at the University of Bristol. The students' union said that the ban was implemented due to 'security concerns'. The inflammatory Twitter, said: "Women don't have penises". He justified the Tweet by stating that he only wanted to start a debate. Julia Banks (center), celebrating the ratification of the Medivac Bill at the Parliament house, along with fellow crossbench MPs Kerryn Phelps and Rebekha Sharkie. PHOTO: AAP IMAGE/LUKAS COCH Whatever happens in Australian politics, whichever party wins the next elections, it is all but certain that a more humane approach towards asylum seekers is in order - and that is partly due to Ms Banks' recent work. But her main legacy, as her first parliamentary term approaches its end, will certainly be her resignation speech - her first shining moment, and still the brightest. Bringing to light the inherent sexism that permeates the Coalition MPs interactions, she revealed a culture that has long poisoned politics in Australia. In a sense, her resignation was more impactful than Julia Gillard's now-iconic misogyny speech, because it has already caused waves within her former party. The Coalition is struggling to find women to seek election and high-ranking politicians are evacuating their seats. All future decisions - and preselection procedures - will be inevitably measured against Julia Banks' condemnation of the party's culture. This is not a bad legacy for any politician. Surely, real change will take much longer to happen - both in regards to the refugee crisis and the parliament's gender culture. But seeing someone take a stand, getting out of their comfort zone, is important - and inspiring for all of us. If a formerly unremarkable party soldier can do it, so can anyone of us.
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