Tehan turns back on taskforce after TESQA university sexual assault findings released1 February 2019
Photo credit: The Standard
Content warning: mentions of sexual assault
Federal Minister for Education Daniel Tehan has axed plans to establish an independent taskforce that would have investigated university responses to and reports of mishandlings of campus sexual assault. The Australian higher education watchdog, Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) has just released its review into university and TAFE providers on Friday 25 January. The review evaluated the efforts of higher education providers in addressing campus sexual assault.
According to the review, 95 per cent of tertiary providers were acting in accordance with the Australian Human Right Commission’s (AHRC) Change the Course report recommendations, and 93 per cent were reassessing university sexual assault and sexual harassment policies.
The University of Melbourne received a mix review from TEQSA. The University scored poorly in leadership and governance for not having a standalone policy on sexual harassment (only achieved by 12 per cent of all universities) nor one for sexual assault (achieved by 14 per cent of all universities). Poor performance in this area reflects a general trend among Australian universities identified in TEQSA’s report.
TEQSA also found that only (21 per cent) are choosing to publicly report incident data. The University of Melbourne, along with 30 other universities, opts to handle complaints internally.
TEQSA’s report includes the announcement that it has set up a compliance and investigations team within the agency to handle complaints of mishandled sexual assault and harassment cases.
Tehan’s decision not to establish an independent sexual assault taskforce comes as a massive blow for advocacy groups like End Rape On Campus Australia (EROC), The Hunting Ground Project, Fair Agenda and the National Union of Students.
“[Sexual assault] is the most significant safety issue facing university students right now,” and they were “extremely disappointed at the Education Minister’s response,” they said in a joint statement on Facebook.
Sharna Bremner, Director of EROC, said to The Australian, “The biggest problem, I think, with the TEQSA report, and in turn with the minister’s response to it, is that this information was self-reported by the universities to TEQSA. So it’s what the universities wanted TEQSA to know.”
University of Melbourne’s Student Union’s Women’s Department said, “It is disappointing to see that the highest regulator of universities thinks it is not needed.”
According to The Age, former Education Minister Simon Birmingham had already prepared a terms of reference and selected members for the taskforce before last year’s Liberal leadership spill.
In a written statement, Labor’s Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek said, “Dan Tehan thinks a taskforce on university free speech is more important than a taskforce on stopping sexual harassment and assault.”
New Matilda reported that Minister Tehan was sympathetic towards men’s rights activist, Bettina Arndt, whose university speaking tour faced significant backlash from student protesters. During her speech, Arndt argued that “there is no rape culture” within Australian universities.