29 May, 2011

Spring Street continued to bully uni over grazing

Melissa Fyfe
The Age, May 29, 2011

THE Baillieu government continued to bully Melbourne University over the controversial alpine grazing trial even after The Sunday Age exposed its threatening behaviour.

Emails tabled in Parliament show that weeks after it was revealed the Department of Sustainability and Environment had threatened the university's funding, senior government official Peter Appleford demanded action on a letter from two university academics to Environment Minister Ryan Smith.
The emails also reveal the university hit back, saying the academics were ''within their rights of academic freedom''.

The letter, signed by 110 scientists, was written by School of Botany scientists Libby Rumpff and Georgia Garrard using their university email addresses. It raised concerns about the trial's independence and methodology.

At the time the emails were written, the university was finalising a funding contract with the department for the now-stalled trial and was negotiating an extension of a long-term research agreement. The trial overturned Labor's ban on cattle in the Alpine National Park and was designed to explore how grazing may reduce fires.

In an email to Rick Roush, dean of the school of land and environment, Mr Appleford, an executive director of the department, said he was considering bringing the letter to the attention of Melbourne University vice-chancellor Glyn Davis. The letter, Mr Appleford wrote, was ''inaccurate, insulting, accusing and closed minded''.

He wrote: ''Clearly the Department cannot let this go unchallenged. I am interested in your views about how I should proceed.'' In another email, department colleague Lee Miezis forwarded the academics' letter to Mr Appleford with the note: ''Perhaps Melb Uni needs to manage this person.''

Professor Roush replied to Mr Appleford the next day, March 18, saying the ''unanimous consensus'' of four senior members of the university's executive was the university could do nothing.

Professor Roush wrote: ''The signatories are legally entitled to affix their employment status on a letter about their area of expertise, and there is no claim about a university position. They are all within their rights of academic freedom.''

The emails, tabled in the upper house recently, were requested by Greens member Sue Pennicuik. The request followed The Sunday Age reporting that Mr Appleford had tried to blackmail the university. Mr Appleford urged the university to reconsider its concerns over the trial in light of a government contract ''worth millions of dollars annually''.

The government denied it had threatened the university and issued a statement saying The Sunday Age had ''misrepresented and taken out of context comments by a departmental officer''.

Ms Pennicuik told Parliament last week that, after reading the tabled documents, she believed The Sunday Age had reported the emails accurately. She said she was concerned about the continuation of threats.
The documents also show a flurry of emails the night The Sunday Age was writing the story. In several emails, Mr Appleford asks the university to deny any threats were made. In one email that he ''hopes stays between us'', he tells Professor Roush and Associate Professor Gerd Bossinger that ''depending on what type of article appears and what quotes are provided from university staff, if any, the department may be requiring an explanation''.

The state government has not indicated when the trial will resume. Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke ordered the cattle out of the park in April.

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/spring-street-continued-to-bully-uni-over-grazing-20110528-1f9s7.html#ixzz1NjWTJlFe

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