Surely by now … one must question why repeatedly … even daily there are those among us who slap a racist stop clause on any discussion …


What lies behind this, eh? $$?

Instead of floating the White Australia bogey, let’s be honest about Chinese influence

Chris Uhlmann
Chris Uhlmann

Nine News Political Editor

August 26, 2019

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In 2016 Bob Carr unloaded on then treasurer Scott Morrison for collapsing in the face of “the witches’ sabbath of xenophobia and economic nationalism stirred up in the recent federal election”.

Morrison’s race crime in the eyes of the then director of the Australia-China Relations Institute was to block two Chinese companies from buying a majority stake in the NSW electricity distributor Ausgrid.

Vice-chancellor Michael Spence at the University of Sydney.
Vice-chancellor Michael Spence at the University of Sydney.CREDIT:JAMES BRICKWOOD

In 2009 Chinese officials privately accused another treasurer, Wayne Swan, of racism for stopping government-owned Chinalco from lifting its stake in Rio Tinto.

When China was billionaire blowhard Clive Palmer’s best friend he dubbed the Foreign Investment Review Board a “racist body” for interfering in a bid by state-owned China Minmetals to buy OZ Minerals.

And when billionaire property developer Huang Xiangmo was barred from Australia on the grounds he might pose a security risk he raged in the Communist Party mouthpiece The Global Times, warning of “the country’s return to the White Australia policy and far-right populism”.


A poster wall covered in messages supporting democracy in Hong Kong at the University of Technology, Sydney

China debate raises spectre of White Australia Policy, says uni chief

So, as an expert in intellectual property, Sydney University’s vice-chancellor, Michael Spence, would know he wasn’t offering a novel idea when he gave an interview to  this newspaper on Saturday to address the growing debate over Chinese Communist Party influence on his campus and in the community.

“We have to be careful this whole debate doesn’t have overtones of the White Australia Policy,”  Spence said. “That’s just frightening as well as kind of dumb.”

After offering a frightening ad hominem attack on those who dared raise uncomfortable questions he reached for another dumb fallacious argument by inventing strawmen who apparently believe his university should be educating a homogenous group of Anglo-Saxons and a few Commonwealth students.

Given these pitiful distractions would see Spence trounced in a high school debate it’s reasonable to ask why he wants to slap a racist stop clause on this discussion.

Maybe he doesn’t want to address the mess he, and many of his fellow vice-chancellors, made as they built gilded palaces on the rivers of gold flowing from full-fee-paying foreign students, most of whom come from China.


Newcastle University vice-chancellor Alex Zelinksy.

Unis relying on overseas students to ‘balance the books’ after funding cuts: vice-chancellor

This has brought a series of wicked dilemmas, some of which would be bad ideas when dealing with any large group of foreign nationals, and others which arise from the fact that China is a deeply intolerant, easily offended and increasingly aggressive single-party state.

Here is a small list of things that Spence should be encouraged to debate:

That universities have compromised academic standards and are graduating students who can’t read, write or speak English to a high school level in order to stuff as many as possible on the books. Should we have a post-graduation audit of language skills to test this proposition?

That relying too heavily on a single cohort of students is foolish because any economic downturn in their homeland might beggar his university.

In China’s case there is also the real chance that Beijing will one day do what its officials have privately threatened and shut off the student flow in a fit of political pique.


NSW Department of Education is the only government department in the world that hosts a Confucius Institute.

NSW schools to scrap Confucius Classroom program after review

Does this reliance on Beijing’s pleasure stop him, or his academics, from levelling criticism at that regime and its actions? Does it change the way his academics teach?

We know that Sydney University academics place a high value on their intellectual freedom because they saw off the Ramsay Centre vandals threatening to flood the campus with Jane Austen and John Milton on the grounds it was “European supremacism writ large”.

What then of the Confucius Institute that’s overseen by a Chinese government agency on the Sydney University campus? The NSW government has just scrapped the program in state schools. What will Spence do?

He fears Australians are prone to racism so let’s hear him on China’s treatment of the Uighurs. And as the hot topic on university campuses right now is not essays on China by “Anglo-Saxons” but clashes between competing views on Hong Kong among Chinese students, what is his answer to that?

Students hold placards during a protest at the University of Queensland last month. Hundreds gathered to protest against funding agreements between Australian universities and Chinese government-funded education organisations in Queensland.
Students hold placards during a protest at the University of Queensland last month. Hundreds gathered to protest against funding agreements between Australian universities and Chinese government-funded education organisations in Queensland. CREDIT:AAP

Then there is the massive theft of intellectual property through Chinese government-sponsored adversaries, a matter in which the Australian National University now has unfortunate expertise.

How about the small matter of where the line should be drawn on allowing academics with direct links to the Chinese government to work with Australian universities on technologies that have military applications?

Australia is at an inflection point.

For the first time our major trading partner is not a liberal democracy and it is a strategic rival of our key ally.

We need to have a serious debate and have a right to expect more of those who lead our academic institutions.

Chris Uhlmann is political editor for Nine News.

Chris Uhlmann

Chris Uhlmann is political editor for Nine News.


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