Academics may be given limited access to books banned under anti-terrorism laws, federal attorney-general Philip Ruddock said on October 2. His comments came after University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis wrote to Ruddock seeking clarification on the laws.
"I'll be prepared to discuss with my own officials and with state government officials as to whether or not, on a limited basis and a structured basis, material necessary for research can be made available for that particular purpose", Ruddock said on ABC TV's Lateline program.
The University of Melbourne removed three books — Defence of the Muslim Lands, Join the Caravan and The Lofty Mountain — from its library, fearing that it may be breaking laws that prevent the distribution of literature praising "terrorism" or "terrorists". The library bought the books in 2005 for a course on the subject of jihad.
University of NSW law expert Professor George Williams told the October 4 Australian that Ruddock's plan to allow reasearchers to have "structured" access to books on terrorism won't work. "It's a misunderstanding of how good research takes place. If researchers have to depend upon a highly structured environment involving an array of permissions, it just won't happen ... the barriers will be too great."
Students at Melbourne University have been handing out leaflets and putting up posters around the campus explaining how the banned books can be accessed online. Student union president Bree Ahrens told Green Left Weekly: "We're not advertising these internet versions of the banned books because we agree with the political sentiment expressed in them or because we advocate terrorism. We simply believe that students and researchers have the right to read whatever they want to and that government attempts to limit intellectual freedoms must be resisted."