In a week from now, UQ student leader Drew Pavlou will face an internal hearing at the University of Queensland to decide whether or not he will be expelled for having organised rallies against various pro-China organisations on campus and generally being a pain in the *rse of UQ’s management. I want to talk about the merits of the case, what Drew should expect, and the wider battle within Australia between those who make money off the Chinese and the pro-Americans who want these economic ties severed. This battle will involve Drew’s case.
The bare bones of the case are simple: Drew is a charismatic 20-year old student who likes to get in trouble and expose corruption and misdeeds around him. This modern-day Don Quixote finds himself at a university (UQ) where its management is basically a kind of maffia that has plenty of skeletons in the cupboard. Hence Drew has been running amok, getting himself elected as student representative in the UQ Senate. Its the place where all the important decisions of management are usually rubber stamped, but where Drew now causes a riot about every little corrupt decision made. I can only smile when I think of how he will have thrown his indignation around in those Senate rooms when it came to decisions around university property-deals or English-language ability requirements.
From his position on the UQ Senate, Drew has complained in the media about the exorbitant salaries the vice chancellor Peter Hoj and his many cronies give themselves, as well as their selling out to the Chinese government in various ways. They for instance gave the Chinese consul general an honorary academic title, and allowed a Confucius institute on campus whose main role is to spread the view of the world of the Chinese government, ie the Party. They do this via “sponsoring” academics and academic courses, where the message of those academics is in line with what is deemed acceptable by the embassy. From a traditional Brisbane perspective, there is nothing unusual about this: it is simply good business to cosy up to rich and powerful friends. Queensland as a whole has very strong economic ties to China: its mining companies are largely China-owned, many students and tourists come from China, and its property boom largely rests on the Chinese as well. UQ in that sense is simply part of a larger convenant between the Queensland elites and Chinese interests.
When Drew started organising somewhat aggressive demonstrations in support of students in Hong Kong, and also expressed strong views about the treatment of the Uighur in China, involving heated exchanges with Chinese students on the UQ campus, the management of UQ tried to shut him up. They did their usual bully shtick on him, via a 186 page allegation document where the internal UQ-police (whose task is to do whatever Hoj wants them to do) went over every tweet and facebook comment they could find by him, and package it all up to paint a picture of a second Che Guevarra who was a menace to the University of Queensland. In protest, Drew managed to get 20,000 signatures supporting his case, a QC who was prepared to represent him pro bono, and he also gave several media appearances.
My interest in the case
I am interested in the case for two reasons. For one, I have been through a similar trajectory myself with UQ’s management, culminating in a court case that I won, around a similar “hot topic” (see here for the court decision which made clear UQ management had not followed its own rules nor natural justice when inventing and pursuing their case against me). In my case, I dared to research racist behaviour in Brisbane, looking at the question what type of ethnicity was more likely to get a free ride on buses, finding that white and East Asian (!) students were far more likely to get a free ride than black or Indian students. The Brisbane elites disliked having such stories in the media and UQ’s management was happy to go after me using any excuse it could. My case also had media, petitions, and the like, but ultimately there was no strong group really bothered enough by racism in Brisbane to truly stand against UQ management. Continue reading