Charges against suspended University of Queensland (UQ) student Drew Pavlou were “obviously fabricated” and involved “scrounging up every bit of filth which could possibly be thrown at him”, his lawyer claims.
In a 16-page appeal document seen by the ABC, Brisbane barrister Tony Morris QC, who is acting pro-bono, argues Mr Pavlou, a vocal opponent of the Chinese Government, was subject to a “kangaroo court” disciplinary process before his two-year suspension from UQ, announced last week.
Mr Pavlou’s on-campus protests have made news all over the world and put UQ’s relationship with China — and the university sector’s reliance on international students — under increasing scrutiny.
About 20 per cent of UQ’s revenue comes from Chinese students.
Mr Pavlou’s suspension has sparked outrage in some sectors of academia and both sides of politics, with the UQ Chancellor issuing a public statement asking for an explanation.
In the appeal document to Mr Pavlou’s suspension, Mr Morris argues the disciplinary panel was given falsified evidence from someone within the university, and the process was marred by a lack of procedural fairness, conflict of interest, apprehended bias, and a failure to give reasons for the verdicts.
In a closed disciplinary hearing, the panel considered whether Mr Pavlou breached the university’s code of conduct through activities such as on-campus activism against the Chinese Communist Party.
The appeal document reveals the panel which decided the penalty was comprised of two academic staff and an international student.
The planned appeal is to the university registrar with the aim of ensuring Mr Pavlou keeps his seat on the UQ senate, but he is also planning Supreme Court action.
Disciplinary board ‘thrown under the bus’
Mr Pavlou has admitted to swearing at fellow students on his Facebook page and in an online university forum, which is part of the case against him.
But the appeal alleges that certain anonymous witness statements were falsified from someone within UQ.
The document alleges the fabricated evidence relates to an anonymous complaint that the university says shows that Mr Pavlou’s social media comments had caused a student to withdraw.
Mr Morris argues the timeline of Mr Pavlou’s posts and the communication from the anonymous student make this charge impossible.
Mr Morris also relies on a statement issued by UQ Chancellor Peter Varghese after the suspension, in which he expressed concern with the panel’s finding and penalty and said he and Vice-Chancellor Peter Hoj played no role in the process.
“Mr Varghese is to be congratulated for the self-restraint and diplomacy which he showed in waiting a full hour before throwing the members of the disciplinary board under the (metaphorical) bus; and attempting — albeit rather unconvincingly — to distance himself and Professor Hoj from the disciplinary action,” Mr Morris writes.
The appeal describes the statement as “incredible”, referencing UQ’s own rules that the disciplinary board has to be appointed by the Vice-Chancellor and there is “no provision” to “delegate”.
It argues that if the disciplinary board was not appointed by Professor Hoj, then it “had no standing or authority to act as a disciplinary board”.
The appeal also says the university’s appointment of law firms Minter Ellison — which acted as prosecutors — and Clayton Utz without the Vice-Chancellor’s knowledge is “perhaps the most significant mystery”.
‘No conflicts of interest’: UQ
The dispute has played out in public and the university’s critics have included the Greens, One Nation, Human Rights Watch, Hong Kong independence leaders and Labor and Liberal senators.
Almost 40,000 people have signed a petition in support of Mr Pavlou.
But UQ has maintained it acted on complaints to ensure a safe environment for students and staff and the disciplinary action was not about free speech.
“As we have previously stated, the Vice-Chancellor has not been involved in the recent disciplinary process,” a university spokesperson told the ABC.
“The Vice-Chancellor annually appoints a pool of disciplinary panel members from staff and student nominations. Student nominations are proposed by the UQ Student Union.
“The Vice-Chancellor does not decide which panel members hear particular matters. Diversity, availability and ensuring there are no conflicts of interest are considered when allocating disciplinary cases.”
UQ declined to address questions about who appointed the law firms engaged by the university or the impact this had on the board.
“As the other points you have raised are matters which may be raised in any appeal, it would not be appropriate for UQ to comment further,” the spokesperson said.
The appeal document argues the academics on the panel may not have brought an “impartial and independent mind” to the matter when their employer was paying the prosecutor.
“(Full-time employees) possibly with aspirations of career advancement were being told by UQ’s solicitors, the outcome which UQ wanted the members of the disciplinary board to reach,” the draft appeal reads.
It also criticises the judgement role by the international student on the panel.
The ABC has chosen not to name the members of the panel.
The two-year suspension coincides with the end of Mr Pavlou’s time as the undergraduate representative on the university’s senate, where he has used his platform to consistently criticise university management.
Mr Pavlou, who spoke to the ABC earlier this week, said he hoped his appeal would allow him to finish his degree and keep his senate seat.
He said he was also planning further action in the Supreme Court of Queensland.
“I want to take it to the Supreme Court so we can absolutely tear them to shreds because it’s a politically motivated farce, any independent judge will see this,” he said.