HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [10.12 pm]: I rise because I want to make some comments in the chamber tonight about what I think are some very disturbing developments that have occurred at my alma mater, Murdoch University. It was subject to some publicity last week but is an ongoing concern. To refresh members’ memories, they may recall that on 6 May this year three academics employed by Murdoch University and many others appeared on the ABC’s Four Corners program. The program was titled “Cash Cows” and revealed some rather unsavoury practices relating to the recruitment of international students at universities right across Australia, including, unfortunately, Murdoch University. I got up in this place two days later and made very clear my concerns about what had happened. I specifically said this at the time —

In the meantime, I certainly hope that the Murdoch University senate looks at this issue very seriously and takes a very close look at what may be happening, and certainly does not attempt to sweep it under the carpet. It is also absolutely critical that those people who have spoken up and have effectively taken on the role of whistleblowers are not persecuted and pursued and that their jobs are not put in jeopardy for legitimately putting forward concerns about the university that they cherish and that I care about too.

It is deeply disturbing to have discovered that since that time, it unfortunately appears that Murdoch University has done exactly that against one of those whistleblowers—I am talking about persecuting and pursuing this particular whistleblower. As has been made public now, one of the things that is happening is that Murdoch University has decided that rather than focusing on addressing the key issues raised by the whistleblowers, it is instead going to individually sue one of the academics for millions of dollars for loss of revenue. The university has claimed that as a result of the publicity, its international student intake is 14.8 per cent less than the forecast figure for semester 2 this year, and it estimates that it is likely to lose millions of dollars of revenue. The university is blaming the academics for this occurring. It is an absolutely chilling development that a whistleblower, who has also made a public interest disclosure, is now going to be subject to this legal threat.

The university might be angry that the whistleblowers shed light on their concerns with the university, but independent of that, the commonwealth Department of Home Affairs undertook its own assessment and has actually increased the risk rating for Murdoch University from 2 to 3. The federal government has made an independent assessment and has determined that there is a problem there. That is the issue that will impact on the capacity of international students to easily attend Murdoch University. I am not making the assertion that the federal government has done the wrong thing here; that has been subject to an independent assessment. I have no evidence to indicate that the rationale for doing that is not correct. I want to be very clear that that is not my concern. The issue here is that it is that decision that has led to the potential loss of revenue, not the actions of one whistleblower.

It is a serious development and seriously concerning if we are now going to see whistleblowers who do the right thing being pursued personally and held liable for millions of dollars. I have to say that the sort of claim that the university is putting up against this academic is ludicrous as well. We are talking about more money than this academic would literally be able to earn in their entire lifetime. We are talking about a senior academic who is facing the threat of having everything that they have ever had stripped from them, because the university is unhappy that they spoke out after months of trying to have their concerns addressed internally within the university and being ignored. As a result of light being shed on the concerns, the federal government independently determined that there is something in this and decided that it needed to take action. I think everyone here should be very concerned about this. We know that whistleblowers play a critical role within the functioning of a healthy democracy. This is precisely why we have whistleblower protections. What we have seen here shows that we clearly do not have enough protections.

I am again going to make this clear to Murdoch University. I said this in May but I will repeat it: I am someone who has two degrees from Murdoch University. I am a former guild president of Murdoch University and was on the senate of Murdoch University. I met my husband at Murdoch University. Murdoch University is very important to me. I am a very proud Murdochian. I have been nominated for various alumni awards in the past. I expect that I will not be nominated for any more in the future because I am speaking out about this. I am really disappointed that by continuing to pursue the academics by taking such public action, the university is dragging its own reputation through the mud and, in doing that, it is denigrating the value of my degrees. I am resentful and angry about that. Any Murdoch University graduate would be right to feel that way. I am really concerned as a Murdoch graduate, but I am also absolutely chilled to the bone because of the broader implications for whistleblowers.

I commend the National Tertiary Education Union, which is now trying to draw attention to what has happened to the academic, Gerd Schröder-Turk. It is encouraging people to stand with Gerd, and I ask members to do that as well. We need to speak out and make it quite clear that it is absolutely unacceptable for any whistleblower to be treated this way. As I said, there is clearly something in the claims that were made, which is why the federal government independently made the assessment that it did about the risk rating. I ask Murdoch again to stop it. Stop this action.

Stop harming the reputation of my university. To all members here, we need to really take note of what is happening to this whistleblower.

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