Student activist settles University of Queensland lawsuit

Drew Pavlou outside the Supreme Court after filing proceedings against UQ, Vice-Chancellor Peter Hoj and Chancellor Peter Varghese.

Photographer: Annette Dew

A multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the University of Queensland (UQ) has been dismissed, after the institution reached an agreement with student activist Drew Pavlou.

Mr Pavlou, a former student representative on the university’s senate, initiated proceedings in the Queensland Supreme Court in mid-2020 after being suspended over multiple misconduct allegations. He claimed that the university had penalised him for his activism against the Chinese Communist Party, and sought A$3.5 million (£1.8 million) in damages for alleged negligence, defamation, deceit, conspiracy and breach of contract.

Mr Pavlou said he had decided to settle after UQ offered to spend A$120,000 on scholarships for disadvantaged law students. “I took ZERO dollars from UQ in my settlement,” he posted on X, formerly Twitter. “Still a great victory because I can help people and leave a legacy at UQ.”

The university, which denied Mr Pavlou’s allegations, said it had agreed to resolve the matter despite being “confident of its position”. In a statement, it said it had opted to commit A$120,000 towards its Leadership, Excellence and Diversity Scholarships “rather than incurring further legal costs if the proceedings had continued”.

The scholarships provide disadvantaged legal undergraduates with up to A$40,000 against their living and study expenses, along with dedicated mentors and social and community support.

Mr Pavlou, a former philosophy student, told AAP that his lawsuit had never been about money. “UQ tried to expel me because I protested against UQ’s immoral economic ties with the Chinese Communist Party. Now I’m back on campus studying law,” he said.

His activism, which captured headlines around the world, escalated after he was manhandled during a 2019 campus demonstration in support of Hong Kong democracy. His allegations upset UQ leaders, who said the university’s Chinese links were in Australia’s interests and stemmed from a time when Australian institutions were being encouraged to build ties with China.

Mr Pavlou initiated separate court proceedings in 2019 against China’s then consul-general in Brisbane, Xu Jie, who was also an adjunct professor at the university. Mr Pavlou blamed Dr Xu for death threats he received after a consulate statement the day after the campus demonstration accused “people with ulterior motives” of capitalising on the situation in Hong Kong to “incite anti-China sentiment”.

That action was dismissed in 2020, after Dr Xu claimed consular immunity. Mr Pavlou sought permission to appeal in 2022, but his application was dismissed a year later because the time limit for appeal had expired. The court found that further action “would be both unnecessary and futile” given that Dr Xu had become China’s ambassador to Cape Verde.

-John Ross – “THE”

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