Legislative Council needs to act on Uni plans

As the public momentum against shifting the University into the city grows, we are witnessing a uniting of the community like no other recent issue. In the meantime, the University authorities are responding by bombarding us with meaningless platitudes. Disturbingly, I'm also receiving communications such as this, "Please forgive the anonymity of my approach, but as an academic at the University, I fear repercussions, if ever it became known I had written to you". This is not an isolated example.

Since having raised my opposition to the move in the Senate (being the first elected representative to express such misgivings) I have been heartened but also admittedly surprised at the strong public sentiment which has been unleashed. In response, the University authorities apparently believe they can appeal to us by talking about Sandy Bay being a 'snobby suburb' and climate change and anything else in between. The University authorities are spending up and spending up big with what is ultimately public (our) money in an attempt to silence the ever-growing number of critics (us). The desperation which is becoming more apparent by the minute sees expensive brochures, full-page advertisements, and spin doctors. They don't convince; if anything, they are counterproductive. It reminds me of the ill-fated Work Choices campaign when the government, recognising deep-seated opposition, thought increasing the public spending on advertising would simply fix the problem. It didn't. It made the situation worse – far worse.

The University authorities seem to be taking the same failed approach pumping out more propaganda at our expense, thereby alienating the public even more.

The difference being the government was answerable to the people, whereas the University is a law unto itself and accountable to no one - necessitating a Legislative Council inquiry.

As one of the few who reads the University's material, I've noticed how all manner of extraneous issues are addressed apart from the two fundamentals – will the move, and if so, how, improve the quality of education/graduates and research?

Instead, we are told Sandy Bay is perceived in a certain light and may be a turnoff to some. Is there anyone who really denied themselves a tertiary education because they did not want to set foot in this allegedly elitist suburb? Who thought that was an argument? Let alone even put it forward? When that predictably and spectacularly failed, the authorities switched mode and we hear of the alleged high crime rate in this now apparently formerly elite suburb.

In case all things environmental push your buttons, the destruction of buildings, bulldozing, and development with all the associated greenhouse gas emissions are studiously avoided and we are regaled with assertions of environmentally friendly infill housing and green bond money emanating from "overseas sources". Their commitment to the environment rather than easy money is worthy of investigation.

And if it's the arts that push your buttons they will have a precinct for you. If it's innovation they will have a hub and if it's sporting, well, they will have a precinct for you as well. All with our money so they can facilitate a completely unnecessary move.

As the University authorities are going into full PR mode at our expense, patronisingly telling us how all the former and current professors, academics, researchers, and students are wrong in opposing this unnecessary and detrimental move, one wonders whether the focus is really on academic excellence.

The prospect of a university's corporate players determining the re-purposing of the idyllic Sandy Bay site is concerning. To allay our fears our views are actively, genuinely, sincerely, and openly welcomed we are told, except, of course, on the fundamental issue of the move itself. No move, no need for all this expensive PR.

Given the University authorities' commitment to transparency and openness, we will soon be told about the cost of the PR campaign, the cost of consultants, and the staff time siphoned off to promote and facilitate this unacceptable move. Accompanying this information will be the list of staff members sacked and courses slashed to pay for it, or has all the funding come from a magic pudding?

The time has come to put a halt to the move. The Legislative Council needs to act.

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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