The Saint Paul's College Bill 2018 repeals both the Saint Paul's College Act 1854 and Saint Paul's College Act 1857 and sets out governance structures for St Paul's College at the University of Sydney. The college council will be reduced from 19 to 13 members, with terms set at six years. Two members of the council are to be appointed, including at least one academic from the University of Sydney. That will help to lessen the separation of the college from the University of Sydney, which is an important step towards bridging the existing cultural divide. Importantly, women will now be able to serve as both council members and as wardens of the college, expunging the current rules that exclude women from those roles. Allowing the council to appoint fellows allows for a greater diversity and breadth of experience in the council itself. That is a significant reform that cannot be underestimated.
The bill outlines a number of measures regarding the transitional arrangements towards the new governance structure and a range of measures to improve accountability and transparency around decision‑making. Students will be permitted to enrol at the college irrespective of their religious beliefs. The bill amends a private Act, which has not been touched in more than 150 years, that establishes the college outside the control of both the University of Sydney and the Parliament. It is the culmination of a long journey by the college council and successive wardens, by the college body and its alumni, and by the University of Sydney. But it is also the culmination of a long struggle by generations of women who have fought the culture of toxic misogyny that pervades the college.
Rape culture is real. It is ever present on our university and TAFE campuses, and it is entrenched at residential colleges, including St Paul's. While I recognise the important efforts of those who are working to reform and improve those institutions, I must reflect on the facts regarding sexual harassment and assault on university campuses. In 2016 the Australian Human Rights Commission inquired into sexual assault and harassment at Australian universities and produced the report entitled "Change the Course". The report reveals that around half of all university students have experienced sexual harassment on at least one occasion, with 26 per cent of students harassed in a university setting. Women are almost twice as likely as men to be sexually harassed in a university setting, and more than three times as likely to be sexually assaulted. Some 71 per cent of sexual harassment perpetrators are male. Rates of sexual harassment increased for LGBTI students, Indigenous students and students with disabilities.
A further review into university residential colleges conducted by Elizabeth Broderick revealed that one in four women has experienced sexual harassment since starting at college; 6 per cent of women and 1 per cent of men had experienced attempted or actual sexual assault; and 50 per cent of students reported witnessing bullying, intimidation and hazing. Those statistics are backed up by reports from journalists such as Nina Funnell, who uncovered rampant hazing and sexism at colleges such as St Paul's, including a pro-rape Facebook page created by St Paul's students; Facebook posts comparing sex with large women to "harpooning a whale"; St Paul's students wearing T-shirts emblazoned with derogatory slogans; and initiation rituals that involved being beaten with thongs, or pushing a mattress uphill while other students attack the person or set fire to the mattress.
There is no place for that behaviour in a modern society. It is simply unacceptable and it must stop. Despite the evidence, there are those who seek to cover up and deny rape culture on our campuses. I was appalled that Young Liberals hosted a tour by sex therapist Bettina Arndt entitled "Fake Rape Crisis Campus Tour" at the University of Sydney and La Trobe University. Her main contention was that rape culture is inflated by campus feminists as a way to denigrate men. Let me say categorically, rape culture is real and bills such as this one before the Parliament today must work to end it.
The review by Elizabeth Broderick has helped shape the contents of the bill and provide a real blueprint for reform. Broderick, a former Sex Discrimination Commissioner, offered a comprehensive list of recommendations focused on best practices around student leadership structures, O-Week events and policies, the supply and demand of alcohol, safety and wellbeing, and reporting and disclosure procedures. St Paul's reluctantly joined the review following negative media attention about practices at the college, but I am pleased that we received its report in September this year. Following the release of the report, under the leadership of Dr Don Markwell, Vice Warden and Head of College, St Paul's issued a comprehensive action plan which will see the college adopt all of the Broderick recommendations. This is leadership. The action plan is prefaced with a statement that St Paul's values include:
… respect and dignity for all, including equality of respect regardless of gender, and diversity and inclusion. They also include emphasis on integrity, community, learning, faith, service, and responsibility.
I am hopeful that the leadership of the college will act in good faith in line with those principles. I note that NSW Labor has said it will continue to review the legislation governing colleges and to hold them accountable for their promises of reform. I particularly thank the shadow Ministers—Jihad Dib, Jenny Aitchison and Sophie Cotsis—for their commitments on this important issue. The objective of reform is cultural change at the college. It will not be easy and it will not happen overnight, but cultural change takes leadership. I acknowledge again the significant leadership that has been shown to date by Dr Markwell, who is in the gallery. I acknowledge the leadership provided by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney, Dr Michael Spence, who has continued to strongly articulate the need for cultural reform. Again, this is leadership.
I take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of activists and young women on campuses across Australia. This is a small victory in a much bigger fight for justice. I have been honoured to support those activists and I am endlessly inspired by their conviction and passion. I acknowledge the courage and resolve of women who speak out about harassment and assault; often they are speaking truth to power. It is unfair that the responsibility to speak up and fight back continually rests on their shoulders. People like us in this place, people in positions of power, have been too slow to acknowledge and support them. But through their courage will come change. I say again, I am optimistic that we can fight for a future free from sexual harassment and assault.
I support this bill because I support constructive reform of our institutions to stamp out sexism and misogyny on our university campuses. But I also acknowledge the reservations of those who have been disappointed in the past by empty promises of reform, only to see harassment and assault continue. I acknowledge the deep hurt and trauma of survivors who have been ignored for too long and who have been told before that things would change. We can no longer turn a blind eye to this behaviour. Let us be part of delivering the solution. Let us be part of delivering accountability and real change. I am optimistic. I hope the bill will deliver that change. I commend it to the House.