Interview with Drew Pavlou: The Vice-Chancellor, UQ & China


Earlier this year, the On Dit team interviewed student activist, controversial firebrand, and former University of Queensland Senator Drew Pavlou. In this section of the interview, Drew gives us his thoughts on our University’s Vice-Chancellor, Peter Hoj, the attempt to expel him from the University of Queensland, and the Chinese government’s actions towards the Uyghur people.

Source: Wikipedia

What brings you two thousand kilometres from Queensland to South Australia?

I travelled two thousand kilometres to protest against Peter Hoj and his new role as Vice-Chancellor at the University of Adelaide. Back when he was the Vice-Chancellor at the University of Queensland (UQ) this man who took a two thousand dollar bonus every year, a bonus that was linked to deepening ties with China, and he promoted the consul-general in Brisbane, Xu Jie, to an honorary professorship. When Xu Jie endorsed violent attacks against me, he did nothing to protect me. He refused to take any action over this against Xu Jie. He was awarded, by the Chinese government in 2015, for being the most outstanding individual of the year for his work promoting Confucius Institutes worldwide. Confucius Institutes are practically propaganda vehicles for the Chinese government.

This is because the Confucius Institute agreement that was signed at the University of Queensland (UQ) basically gave the Chinese government full latitude over course content that was taught through the Confucius Institute. What did that mean? That meant there were courses at the University of Queensland that, when introducing people and the genocide, they introduced it through the prism of Uyghurs are overrepresented in terror statistics and that its a re-education campaign. Imagine a class discussing Black Lives Matter and they go into the discussion of “Oh, African-Americans are apparently over-represented in crime statistics.” It would be so so so clearly racist. That’s what this course was, it was clearly racist, it was promoting hatred against Uyghurs.

He was allowing this to happen at the University of Queensland and when I protested against it he began the process to expel me. He brought in the two international law firms, they spent millions of dollars trying to expel me, they began a systemic campaign of surveillance and investigation into me, an investigation in search of a crime. So, for example, freedom of information requests show that the university had fifteen thousand pages of individual documents of information just relating to me, and that was in a three month period. Three months of my eighteen month battle with UQ, in just three of those eighteen months, they produced fifteen thousand pages worth of documents just on me. The level of surveillance they put me under was ridiculous.

That’s why some of the charges against me were just so absurd. There was the now famous charge that “Drew used a pen from a campus art shop without paying for the pen, put it back on the shelf after taking notes.” Apparently that was a level 3 offence, worthy of like expulsion. It’s not as if they said like, “Oh, that was a level 1 mild offence he should just be made to put it back and apologise.” They literally charged it as a level 3 most serious offence and that was for using a pen in a gift shop, a five dollar pen. Then other ones were like, “Drew forced students from China to withdraw from their courses because he posted ‘as a UQ senator I support Hong Kong’”, and stuff like that. One of them was me saying that UQ had a rape culture and that I was destroying the University’s reputation. One of them was when I made the fake satirical event “Peter Hoj welcomes you to the Confucius Institute for a talk on why Uyghurs should be genocided.”

In the end they exonerated me on nine of the fourteen charges. The only ones they convicted me on were the ones not related to China and that was just so Peter Varghese could put out a statement saying that “Drew’s been suspended for six months, he’s been removed from the senate, but none of the charges had anything to do with China.” Even though the initial stuff was all to do with China.

If I recall correctly, you were also charged for calling someone in student politics on the other side of the aisle a “c*nt”?

Yeah, there were a couple like that. One of the charges I was exonerated on was regarding this Bachelor of Advanced Finance and Economics degree at UQ, which is basically just a banking degree and everyone thinks of them as just stuck up and whatever. I made a post some time ago, a satirical one that basically said, all of the economy can be summed up based on what my rich dad thinks. They then said, that because of this, I bullied every single student in that cohort. Supposedly all two hundred and fifty students in that cohort were seriously offended and all that Tony Morris (Drew’s lawyer) asked for was for UQ to show them a single student who has complained, and they couldn’t do that. This was literally over a shitty post, a shitpost I made.

One of the charges was basically just a biff between mates. Some guys went after me but ultimately we’re mates, we called each other c*nts or whatever and they just screenshotted that and said, “Drew’s bullying these students”. When these students came forward, they talked to me, they talked to my lawyer, they talked to the media, and they were saying they weren’t bullied and that we were just mates and this was just a biff.

UQ’s lawyers, including Tom Fletcher, the Minter Ellison Partner they brought in for like a million dollars, argued that it doesn’t matter if no one individually was bullied because we’re using a hypothetical person test, so a hypothetical person in a vacuum would have felt bullied by Drew calling him a c*nt. It was just such a ridiculous move, the lengths they went to were so ridiculous and what it pointed to was their attempt to use anything they had against me.

Circling back to a point you made earlier, you said that Peter Hoj and the University made no attempt to offer to protect you at all. When we spoke to Peter Hoj he claimed that they offered you full security whenever you were on campus.

This is how it worked, right: so on July 24 2019 I’m assaulted; July 25 there were death threats and the consul-general who is also the appointed UQ honorary professor, states, “We support the self-motivated patriotic behaviour of the students who oppose the separatists.” Separatism in China is considered worse than paedophilia, rape, murder. It’s the death penalty, and he said he endorsed the patriotism of people who basically attacked us.

The first time I ever got any contact from UQ was days later, when I had already gone to the media and said, “UQ has offered me no protection, they know people have been giving me these death threats and they know I had been assaulted while I was on campus.” After that, they offered me one-time security to walk me to my class and that was the one time I ever used it. The reason I stopped using it is because I realised that security were not there to protect me, they were there to snoop on me and to mind me, and so after that I would just walk with mates and stuff like that but not security.

So, that was all a complete joke. Still to this day Xu Jie is an honorary professor and still to this day I was the only person disciplined in relation to what happened there. I was the person that was assaulted, whereas he used his very senior position as consular general in Brisbane, a very senior post, to endorse violence against me and nothing happened.

Do you think that any of the charges against you were legitimate? If so, did you deserve some sort of punishment?

I think the very basis of the entire case and investigation against me was illegitimate. Even if I was to say that, “Yeah, I shouldn’t have used that pen without putting it back on the shelf, I should’ve just fucking paid the five dollars and bought the pen”, even if I said that, the entire process, start to finish, was because of the China thing. I don’t think you can break up the charges against me from my political activities, this is what UQ [the University of Queensland] wants to do so they can say, “Oh, no, no, no, we only went after Drew because he was this terrible evil bully, blah, blah, blah.”

If that is the case, then why are there tens of thousand of pages of surveillance on me at the university? Why did they get two international law firms to go against me? Why did they go so hard against this one twenty year old student? The only thing common sense tells us is that they targeted me because I was threatening one of the university’s closest financial relationships: twenty percent of the university’s budget, two hundred million dollars a year and then for Peter Hoj it’s worth like half his salary.

L: Peter Hoj, R: Drew Pavlou.

What does Peter Hoj represent to you as Vice-Chancellor?

I think Peter Hoj himself is a man who decided to rub up close to China and support Chinese government interests, at the expense of human rights in China, simply because it was profitable for him. With this he becomes a symbol of the establishment and the elite in this country who have sold out human rights for Chinese government blood money.

It’s not just Peter Hoj, it’s people like Twiggy Forrest, it’s people like Clive Palmer, it’s people like Gina Reinhart. It’s much of the media class, it’s much of the business class, it’s all the university Vice-Chancellors — all of them are still going on with the same idea that, “We have to engage with China! We have to go back to how things were!” Now we can’t just go back to how things were when we’ve got millions of Uyghur Muslims in concentration camps. That’s our argument and that’s why we do what we do. So, he becomes a symbol of the establishment and the elite who have really sold out democratic values and sold out human rights — for blood money.

You say that about Clive Palmer, but was his last election campaign not a very “anti-China activist” one?

If you look at Clive Palmer’s real stuff, all his money depends on China. He makes purposely stupid and racist attacks on China to discredit the movement I reckon. Clive Palmer discredits us all, we’re fighting for human right, we’re fighting for Muslim rights and Clive Palmer is just some racist idiot. He’s just controlled opposition.

What drives your interest in and support for the human rights of the Tibetans, the Uyghurs, and the people of Hong Kong?

I was really an accidental activist, really. I just had that one protest which I launched because I was looking at what was happening in Hong Kong and I was fired up by the visuals about the people our age being bashed by riot police. I was reading about what was happening to the Uyghurs. I read about how close the university was to China and I looked around and I saw that most of the people who were fighting against China were racists and idiots and I thought, Okay, where’s the left on this? I regarded myself as left-wing and wanted a leftist China critique and pro-human rights protest.

I got assaulted at that rally and death threats were made against my family. The way my personality works meant that when I saw they wanted to silence me, I thought, Okay, I’ll go one hundred times harder. The university then started taking the side of those who were trying to shut us down and I said I’ll go harder, and from there it just snowballed and spiralled out of my control. Ever since that day two years ago when I was nineteen, there hasn’t been a single day where I haven’t been an activist, so I’ve been super focused on it. If you went to me just after that protest, and you told me I’d still be doing this, I never would have thought that. It just became so personal and I couldn’t back down.

When we spoke to Hoj he told us that he had no involvement in your disciplinary hearing and that this was something totally under the purview of various committees. What are your thoughts on this response?

That’s absolutely absurd because it was not just outsourced to a committee. They brought in international law firms, they brought in Clayton Utz and MinterEllison, they would’ve spent millions on this and the lawyers mounted a prosecution before UQ’s own hand-picked panel of academics and students telling them “Expel Drew Pavlou.” And what are those academics and students meant to say? They just followed along with the university’s lawyers because they don’t want to jeopardise their careers. Who else but the Vice-Chancellor could approve of the use of MinterEllison and Clayton Utz, spending millions of dollars on legal firms, and who else would approve of arguing those points to the case?

Someone had to brief the lawyers, the university had a strategy, the lawyers were arguing that I should be expelled. Who directed that strategy, who paid for it? It could only have been the Vice-Chancellor unless he was completely not in control of his own university which we know is not the case. Simple common sense shows that Peter Hoj would have had to have been involved in my case from start to finish because no one else would have had the power to approve of the use of two international law firms, spending millions of dollars in doing so, and no one else would have had the power to direct the strategy of the lawyers arguing that I should be expelled. It had to have come from the very top or the alternative is that he lacked any sort of control whatsoever over his own university administration, and if that’s the case, he’s still complicit.

Editor’s Note: If you have any questions about what Drew raised in regards to the Vice-Chancellor, the University of Queensland, and tertiary education in general, feel free to email or for the upcoming Vice-Chancellor’s Student Forum and see for yourself if your voice is heard.

Read our interview with Vice-Chancellor Peter Hoj here.

Adelaide University student magazine since 1932. Edited by Ivan Jankovic, Stasi Kapetanos, Isobel Moore, and Michelle Roylance. Get in touch:

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