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University of Melbourne under fire on Hong Kong police recruitment ad

Activists are appealing to the University of Melbourne to follow the lead of other universities and remove a recruitment campaign for Hong Kong police from its careers platform. Ashleigh Barraclough reports. 

University of Melbourne under fire on Hong Kong police recruitment ad

Pro-democracy demonstrators at a rally at the State Library of Victoria on August 31, 2019, protesting a controversial bill that would have given Hong Kong powers to extradite suspected criminals to places it doesn't have an extradition treaty with. The bill was withdrawn in September, 2019. Photo: Shujing Cai

Story by Ashleigh Barraclough
 

The University of Melbourne has not acted on calls to remove a recruitment advertisement for the Hong Kong Police Force from its online careers platform despite widespread criticism from student and pro-democracy groups.

The Melbourne Hong Kong Public Affairs Society (MHKPAS) started a petition shortly after the listing was posted on May 8, calling on the university to remove the advertisement. As of July 10 it has nearly 1600 signatures.

The listing posted by the Hong Kong Police Force is recruiting for applicants to positions as “probationary inspectors”.

“[Probationary inspectors] maintain law and order, prevent and investigate crimes as well as respond to emergency situations,” the advertisement says.

The Hong Kong Police Force has been criticised by pro-democracy and human rights groups over the past year for alleged use of excessive force in confrontations with protestors.

The Hong Kong Police Force has been criticised by pro-democracy and human rights groups over the past year for alleged use of excessive force in confrontations with protestors.

The listing, which closed on July 10, is still visible on the university’s Careers Online portal.

By carrying the advertisement, the university was “indirectly promoting terrorism”, said Joseph Yu, a University of Melbourne student who returned home to Hong Kong in April when teaching and learning moved online last semester.

Yu, an active member of the MHKPAS, wrote several emails to the university’s grievance team, as well as Deputy Vice-Chancellor Richard James, asking them to step in to remove the advertisement. He received one reply from the grievance team, stating that the advertisement did not contravene university policy and the university did not endorse the ads on Careers Online.

Hong Kong has seen ongoing mass demonstrations and violent clashes between pro-democracy protesters and police since June 2019, when the Hong Kong government introduced an extradition bill that would have allowed it to extradite suspected criminals to places it does not have a formal extradition treaty with, such as China.

The bill was withdrawn last September, but on June 30 China introduced its own national security law, criminalising acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The new legislation extends to Hong Kong, bypassing the city’s local parliament. It was used to arrest 10 people in Hong Kong the day after it took effect.

In response, the Australian government this week announced it would suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and extend the visas of many Hong Kongers living in Australia.

“The extent of police brutality has no limits now – nothing can stop them,” said Joseph Yu, reflecting on the new law. But he said it is the “responsibility” of pro-democracy groups to keep protesting.

“They would love to see us stop fighting. They are using this law to scare us – we shouldn’t stop now.”

The University of Melbourne isn’t the only institution to come under fire for hosting job ads for the Hong Kong police. The University of New South Wales (UNSW) and the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) both removed similar advertisements from their careers websites after student complaints.

“The student careers’ website is used by employers to post job advertisements for students at the University of Melbourne,” a university spokesperson told The Citizen.

The listing for a “Probationary Inspector” position, advertised on the University of Melbourne website, includes training that includes skills in “command and control” and “use of force”.

The listing for a “Probationary Inspector” position, advertised on the University of Melbourne website, includes training that includes skills in “command and control” and “use of force”.

“These include job advertisements, like the one posted by the Hong Kong police, which may interest international students who are considering returning home after they complete their studies.”

The “Probationary Inspector” position has a starting salary of HK$47,690 ($8,858) per month and includes 36 weeks of foundation training in skills such as “command and control”, “psychology in policing” and “use of force”.

While the university has not removed the advertisement, it has updated the post on the job description, stating it “is in no way an endorsement by the University of the opportunity”. The addendum also says that “students are advised to make their own assessment as to the suitability of the opportunity”.

The Hong Kong Police Force said recruitment of university graduates overseas has “always been” one of their strategies.

“Every year, [the] recruitment division of the force would conduct recruitment publicity via different platforms, social media and recruitment projects and also host various recruitment activities, including recruitment seminar and experience sharing, both in Hong Kong and overseas.

“The force will regularly review the recruitment strategy in light of the prevailing situation.”

The MHKPAS created a template letter for University of Melbourne students, staff and alumni to send to the university, which argues the advertisement could tarnish the university’s reputation.

University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) President Hannah Buchan said the union is “against all types of violence in Hong Kong, which extends to what the university is doing right now, which is essentially promoting violence and brutalisation in [Hong Kong]”.

She said the decisions by UNSW and UTS to remove the advertisement set a good precedent. “It shows they actually listen when students speak out against things they are doing.”

UMSU president Anna Buchan said the University of Melbourne is “essentially promoting violence and brutalisation” in Hong Kong. Photo: supplied.

UMSU president Anna Buchan said the University of Melbourne is “essentially promoting violence and brutalisation” in Hong Kong. Photo: supplied.

Buchan said UMSU has received complaints from students who want the advertisement removed. She has been advising them to go through the university’s formal grievance procedure to demonstrate to the university that “this is affecting hundreds of students”.

A motion passed UMSU’s students’ council on July 8 condemning the university for allowing the listing to remain on Careers Online. The motion also stated that UMSU calls on the University to not advertise for foreign police forces or militaries in the future.

Joseph Yu, who intends to return to Australia to continue his studies, said the Hong Kong Police Force was targeting the overseas market because young people in Hong Kong do not want to join the police, given the allegations of police brutality.

He said the police are counting on Hong Kong students in Australia not being “aware of what’s happening in Hong Kong”.

“Sarah”, a University of Melbourne student and member of the MHKPAS who asked not to be named in this story, agreed.

“People just don’t want to be police anymore, so there’s no one they could recruit, so they go overseas to find university students to sign up for the Hong Kong Police Force.”

It is unclear whether this overseas recruitment strategy has been successful. The Citizen asked the University of Melbourne how many applications the listing had received, but the university said it doesn’t have access to that data.

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