EXCLUSIVE: Criticising the Australian flag will get you suspended from LaTrobe University. Chris Graham reports.
Roz Ward – a respected Melbourne academic and one of the co-founders of the Safe Schools program – has been suspended from her job at La Trobe University this afternoon, over a private Facebook post which criticised the Australian flag as “racist”.
Ms Ward, who has been at the centre of a News Corporation engineered media storm this week, was notified in writing this afternoon of her immediate suspension (with pay) from the university.
Fiona Reed, the Executive Director of Human Resources at LaTrobe accuses Ms Ward of breaching her employment conditions by embarrassing the university, causing the Victorian Government – a major funder of LaTrobe – to divert resources to defending Safe Schools, and of putting her colleagues at risk by creating an ‘unsafe’ environment.
Last week, under a photograph of the gay and lesbian flag flying above Victorian parliament, Ms Ward joked with a friend on Facebook: “Now we just need to get rid of the racist Australian flag on top of state parliament and get a red one up there and my work is done.”
The ‘red’ is a reference to the Marxist flag – in addition to her work with Safe Schools, Ms Ward is a prominent figure in Melbourne’s Marxist political movement.
The post was leaked to The Australian newspaper, which began a campaign last week to remove Ms Ward from her position with Safe Schools Victoria Coalition, which is funded by the Victorian government and auspiced by LaTrobe.
By early this week, former Liberal Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett – the Chairman of charity beyondblue, which has been a major funder of LaTrobe – had joined the attacks, telling media that if Ms Ward remained in her role with Safe Schools, he would personally argue against any further funding to the university’s Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, which administers the Safe Schools program on behalf of LaTrobe.
This afternoon, Ms Ward was handed a letter by LaTrobe University, immediately suspending her from her job Specifically, La Trobe claims Ms Ward’s conduct:
“a. … Undermined public confidence in the Safe Schools program by undermining public confidence in you as a researcher and as a person associated with the Safe Schools program.”
“b. … Damages the reputation of the Safe Schools program and aligns the Safe Schools program with views which have nothing to do with the program and its message and content.”
“c. … Has required members of the Victorian Government to take up their time in defending the Safe Schools program, rather than be positive advocates for the Safe Schools program.”
“d. … Has required senior staff at the University to take up their time in defending the Safe Schools program, rather than be positive advocates for the Safe Schools program or undertake other duties they have.”
“e. … drawn (your colleagues) into the negative publicity around Safe Schools and this has impacted on their ability to continue with their research in a safe environment.”
The campaign against Ms Ward bears a striking resemblance to one launched by conservative media in 2015 against SBS journalist Scott McIntyre, who tweeted from his private account comments critical of Anzac Day.
Those tweets drew the ire of then-Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who admitted to contacting the CEO of SBS, Michael Ebeid directly.
McIntyre was forced from his job, but successfully sued SBS over his dismissal, with the broadcaster reaching a confidential settlement earlier this year .
Ms Ward’s Facebook page is no longer active, and attempts by New Matilda to contact her were unsuccessful.
New Matilda is currently trying to seek comment from LaTrobe University.
Ironically, Safe Schools has come under sustained assault by conservatives, in particular for linking to third party websites which feature content government officials such as Cory Bernardi find offensive. This evening, in another New Matilda piece, Cory Bernardi has come under fire for tweeting a link to a ‘pro-rape’ blogger.
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