Confucius Classrooms

Confucius Classrooms

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:48): I rise today to talk about the Confucius Institute and the Confucius Classrooms that currently operate in our state. Tonight, I will be hosting a film screening of a documentary by Doris Liu called In the Name of Confucius. This documentary documents the Toronto school board's acrimonious battle over the Confucius Classrooms program there. The board in Toronto voted to oust the program after a debate split the local Chinese community.

The documentary follows Sonia Zhao, a Chinese Falun Gong practitioner who came to Canada as a Confucius Institute Mandarin teacher but later sought asylum. Falun Gong is a modern spiritual discipline that is banned in China. I met the film's maker, Doris Liu, earlier this year in this parliament. I was privileged to give her a tour of this parliament, and I am privileged to screen this film in this parliament tonight. At a screening of this film during a New South Wales parliamentary session, she is quoted as saying:

You have to think about what strings are attached, what kind of costs are coming with the free Chinese education provided by Confucius Institutes. Do you really want to sacrifice your academic freedom, human rights and fundamental values to this free education opportunity?

Confucius Institutes in Canada have had teacher contracts that have stipulated that no Falun Gong practitioners would be allowed to work for the institutes and, indeed, as shown in this film tonight that I am screening, Ms Zhao successfully challenged the contract over discrimination under Canada's Human Rights Commission.

The university, McMaster University, later closed that Confucius Institute, becoming the first one in the world to do so. It is not the only such occurrence, though. The institutes have drawn increasing criticism in recent years. About eight universities in the US and Europe have now closed the institutes on their campuses amid concerns they are designed to leverage Beijing's political agenda in western countries and stifle opposing views on issues like Tibet and Taiwan.

While hard evidence of problems around Confucius Institutes has been thin, in February the US FBI director told a Senate inquiry the agency was investigating dozens of US Confucius Institutes over concerns that they are part of covert spying and influence operations. In March, the UK's Conservative Party's Human Rights Commission launched an inquiry into the UK's Confucius Institutes.

Closer to home, we have 14 Confucius Institutes in Australian universities and 67 Confucius Classrooms in our schools. In South Australia, we have one Confucius Institute at the University of Adelaide, two Confucius Classrooms in our state's public schools, being at Salisbury High and Plympton International College, and one Confucius Classroom in the private sector in CBC.

Many are aware of the good work that the Confucius Institutes and Classrooms do, and they do do good work, but what we are not aware of and what New South Wales has now paid great attention to—the New South Wales education department has placed the Confucius Classrooms under review at present—is what the hiring processes are and what the contracts involve with the delivery of these programs in our state public schools and state institutions.

There has been a lot of talk lately about religious freedom and our teaching staff. That freedom goes so far, but when that freedom is restricted in our public schools, I think we should be paying attention. Certainly, that has been the case in Canada. The contracts for Confucius Classrooms and Confucius Institutes so far seem to be replicated exactly and precisely around the world, so it would be naive to consider that what occurred in Canada is not occurring here.

I urge all members of this council to pay attention to what is happening in our schools and ensure that religious freedoms are defended no matter who we are talking about. That certainly includes Falun Gong practitioners, who will join me tonight for what is no doubt going to be a thought-provoking panel.

I am encouraged that this screening will go ahead in this parliament, because in other places around Australia screenings have been shut down at universities that have Confucius Institutes. I do not want to see that replicated in South Australia. I want to ensure that we do all we can to ensure that there is not such discriminatory practices going on in our state schools with regard to the religious freedoms of our teaching staff.

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