Contempt of Parliament question is raised over university’s treatment of professor who warns about China

Malcolm Harbrow has raised a good question on his No Right Turn blog:  have Professor Anne-Marie Brady’s employers committed a contempt of Parliament by gagging her and subjecting her work to a secret review?

Brady’s work has become the subject of an unseemly wrangle among local and overseas academics over the University of Canterbury’s internal review of a paper that claims New Zealand universities and businesses may be helping China’s military ambitions.

Academics named in the paper have complained while other academics have expressed support for Brady.

Dr Catherine Churchman, lecturer in Asian Studies at Victoria University, dipped into the wrangle in a Newsroom article which notes Brady’s likely influence on a shift in New Zealand’s relations with China.

University of Canterbury Professor Anne-Marie Brady’s research has led to her being silenced by her own university, but the latest alterations in MFAT policy around exports of goods and technology with potential military uses show the Government takes her concerns seriously.


This policy shift can be seen as official recognition of the seriousness of a problem addressed in the parliamentary submission in July by Professor Brady to the Justice select committee. The report, entitled “Holding a Pen in One Hand and a Gun in the Other” is meticulously detailed and referenced, and stands alongside other related studies on the topic, such as the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s series of ground breaking reports on the Chinese military’s efforts to access military technology via university links.

Professor Brady has led the charge in researching the problem as it relates to New Zealand …

Alas, here comes a big “but”.

 …  but instead of congratulating her, a few months ago her own university placed the aforementioned parliamentary submission under “review”. Few details of what this entails (or whether the “reviewers” will be able to read the many original sources in Chinese that Brady’s report references) have been made public.

What is known from media coverage is that the university’s review arises from University of Canterbury academics mentioned in the paper, as well as others from universities elsewhere in New Zealand and overseas, complaining about its assertions. Canterbury’s deputy vice-chancellor, Professor Ian Wright, said the complaining academics believed the publication contained “manifest errors of fact and misleading inferences”.

After these complaints had been aired in the media, Brady’s parliamentary submission was assessed by several fellow China specialists. And:

More than 150 academics, politicians and journalists, including New Zealand’s-own Nicky Hager have signed an open letter in support of Brady and rejecting allegations that the paper contains errors.

Churchman deals with the widening of Communist Party control over Chinese society, the country’s National Intelligence Law and the  subjecting of private companies to increased Communist Party supervision, and the increasing likelihood that any trade or sharing of technologies with possible military applications to Chinese companies or institutions will end up in the hands of Chinese authorities.

Technologies or techniques developed in New Zealand and sold to Chinese companies may well end up harming or killing ethnic minorities or political detractors in China, or being used in warfare against New Zealand or one of our allies.

Even if these companies and individuals mentioned in Brady’s report did not in the past know, or care to find out, about the implications of trading these kinds of technologies to companies and institutions in the PRC, they must certainly be aware now. The new export regulations announced by MFAT are an official recognition of the problem, and should be seen as a vindication of the Brady research.

Any objections to the content of the research –Churchman concluded – should be the subject of open discussion and counter-argument with reference to the facts, which “is the proper way to solve academic disputes”.

Subjecting Brady’s research to a secretive “review” was harmful to the parliamentary process and to academic freedom “and could stifle the necessary open debate around a widely and (now officially) recognised problem”.

The No Right Turn blog has picked up on this to remind us how university leaders have invited contempt of parliament proceedings.

If this paper had simply been published in a journal, this would just be an example of academics and universities dependent on Chinese funding trying to ruin the career of someone critical of their foreign patron. That’s shitty enough, but the fact that the paper was presented as a submission to Parliament – and the review is explicitly about that submission – makes this far more serious.

Reference is made to Paliamentary Practice in New Zealandby former Clerk of the House David McGee, and its crystal-clear advice:  attempting to punish a parliamentary contribution in any way constitutes contempt of the House.

A leading precedent involved the State enterprise Television New Zealand Ltd. The broadcaster advised its chief executive that his evidence to a select committee amounted to serious misconduct in his employment. This action was held to be in contempt for disadvantaging a witness. The House resolved that protection of select committee witnesses was of fundamental importance and that the actions of the broadcaster could deter or discourage select committee witnesses in the future. The House required a formal apology and imposed a fine of $1,000.

The No Right Turn post concludes that if the University of Canterbury continues with its “review”, it may find themselves in a similar situation.

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