Bettina Arndt protests may not inspire folk songs, but here’s why they matter

A university investigation into the protest resulted in one student being disciplined.

Acting registrar Associate Professor Peter McCallum accused Arndt of failing to respect the confidentiality of the investigation by publicly identifying some of the protesters.

Bettina Arndt, who launched a “Fake Rape Crisis Tour”.Credit:Karleen Williams

As a result, two young people “were subject to offensive or grossly offensive derogatory online comment, and at least one … was subject to threats, including discussion of rape”, McCallum said.

That’s presumably a detail Arndt will leave out of her next polemic on rape culture.

In the grand tradition of student protests – the great anti-Vietnam rallies of the late ’60s, the protection of draft dodgers by student networks, the anti-apartheid protests of the 1980s – the anti-Arndt protest will probably not feature strongly.


It is unlikely to inspire too many folk songs.

There were other instances of alleged suppression of free speech and academic freedom cited as reasons for the review.

The shutting down of a talk at the University of Western Australia by a pediatrician with controversial views on transgender kids.

The sacking of Professor Peter Ridd, a marine physicist and climate change sceptic at James Cook University.

In 2017 during the marriage equality debate, there were reports of No and Yes campaigners clashing at Sydney University. The worst thing that is alleged to have happened is that one Yes campaigner smeared hummus on a No campaigner.

No word on whether any tabouli was also thrown, or babaghanoush deployed.

And then there is the ongoing debate over the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, which is really about academic freedom, but for reasons of political expediency, gets mixed up in the same stew as Bettina Arndt and the fake rapists.

Somewhat awkwardly, the independent review into campus free speech, conducted by former High Court chief justice Robert French, found that “claims of a freedom of speech crisis on Australian campuses are not substantiated”.


Not having got what they wanted – confirmation of a crisis they asserted existed – the usual voices in the conservative media, and Dan Tehan, have focused instead on French’s recommendation that universities adopt a Model Code to promote free speech on campuses.

Not all universities have formulated a formal response, but most look set to adopt the voluntary code, adapted to fit within their own regulatory structure.

The code is sensible, and seems aimed at countering the pious and infantilising culture of the far left, which often confuses offence with real harm.

The code sets out protections from intimidation and humiliation, but there is no duty to protect students from “feeling offended or shocked or insulted by the lawful speech of another”.

In the conclusions of his report, French mentions the idea of “intellectual rubbish”, and notes, rather drily, that “there certainly is an abundance of it”.

As French puts it: “The question may be asked whether a higher-education provider should be obliged to host any intellectual rubbish that wants to cross its threshold.”

The answer is probably yes, as long as the content of the speech is not unlawful.

For my money, Arndt’s views fall into that category. They are laughable, as Bolt demonstrated, but also dangerous because they promote misogynistic and incorrect claims about women.

But probably the best antidote to Bettina Arndt’s ideas being promulgated is Bettina Arndt.

The more she speaks the more it becomes clear she is floating, weightless, in some sort of fact-free space-void, hoping for a Mark Latham or a Milo Yiannopolis to come and lend her some true notoriety of the kind that might help her sell a few books.

Sydney University students protesting against the Bettina Arndt lecture about rape on campus in September last year.

Sydney University students protesting against the Bettina Arndt lecture about rape on campus in September last year.Credit:

Perhaps Arndt could join with union boss John Setka for a speaking tour – the ultimate intellectual odd-couple, they seem to share some views on men’s rights.

Call it “Betts and Sets” and watch the tickets sell themselves.

As Sydney University Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence has pointed out, our entire culture is becoming more polarised and tribal in its views, and we are losing the civility, and the will, to listen to each other respectfully, or admit when we have it wrong.

We are intolerant of moral mistakes and punishing of those who change their minds. Universities have a strong role to play in pushing back against this culture and promoting one of free inquiry and open-mindedness.

As the French review, and the universities’ response to it, shows, in almost every case, they are already doing that.

Long may it continue.

Twitter: @JacquelineMaley

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