Sydney University students protest over Greiner appointment

Reporter: Toni Hassan

LINDA MOTTRAM: But let's go now to a volatile mix of health and politics, which has erupted into protest at Australia's oldest and most prestigious university over the appointment that students are calling Nick o tine.

Medical students and health academics at Sydney University are at loggerheads with the Chancellor after he named the former New South Wales Premier, now tobacco company Chairman, Nick Greiner, to a senior position at the University.

Students have staged a demonstration outside the official launch of the University's new Graduate School of Government and its Advisory Council, a body that Nick Greiner, who currently Chairs the Australian arm of British American Tobacco, will head.

The protesters say the decision is inappropriate and insensitive to community standards.

The University's Chancellor and Mr Greiner have both defended the appointment, telling The World Today that they believe there is no conflict of interest.

Toni Hassan reports.

(Chants of: "Nick off Nick. Nick off Nick.")

TONY HASSAN: The message Nike Air Max 2017 was short and sharp. Nick Greiner, who Chairs the Australian division of British American Tobacco, or BAT, is not welcome on campus.

STUDENT: Well I'm doing a PhD here at Sydney University, it's going to take a number of years and I think the credibility of the work that I do might be questioned given the fact that the University is so closely aligned to somebody who's now promoting tobacco.

TONY HASSAN: Nike Air Max Black Friday Heading the campaign against the appointment of Nick Greiner as chair of the Advisory Body attached the new Graduate School of Government is Simon Chapman, Professor of Public Health.

SIMON CHAPMAN: The University itself bans the tobacco industry from giving money to students or staff and consistent with that policy we believe that this terrible decision should be overturned.

TONY HASSAN: The new school is the person project of the Chancellor, Justice Kim Santow.

He says the new Graduate School of Government is the most important development in public sector education in a long time, a remarkable collaboration between a band of universities around Australia and State governments now able to provide quality education to public servants about the private sphere.

Justice Santow says the appointment of Nick Greiner to the School is not connected to any tobacco company.

KIM SANTOW: Mr Greiner has been appointed as a former Premier of New South Wales, as somebody who has had a deep and continuing interest in public sector management.

We have no interest whatsoever in any other attribute than that. We have a very clear policy in regard to tobacco companies. There has been absolutely no breach of it.

TONY HASSAN: That might be the case, but isn't this about perceived reputation and the interests of the University, given the message that this might send?

KIM SANTOW: That's why I'm glad of the opportunity to be able to make it crystal clear, as I have done, that the appointment is made of Mr Greiner because of the skills that he brought in an area having nothing to do with tobacco.

TONY HASSAN: Isn't this against the backdrop too of the increasing influence of British American tobacco, the Australia division, with its presence here I understand during orientation days, it trying to have something of an influence separate to Nick Greiner and the Government School?

KIM SANTOW: The University has a non discriminatory policy where any employer, and there are hundreds of them, can put up a stand and pay the cost to the University of providing that facility.

Our policy does not permit us to discriminate against particular employers.

The influence of British Tobacco, quite frankly, is minimal at most.

We would probably create a very strange expectation in the community if we suddenly said we won't have Nike because they employ sweated labour, we won't have some other company because we don't like their policy.

It becomes a very difficult and slippery slope.

TONY HASSAN: The man at the centre of it all, Nick Greiner, says it's all a storm in a tea cup.

NICK GREINER: Oh look, I think it's irrelevant. The truth is, this is an important initiative. I think even my worst enemies might think that I'm a good person to do what is an honorary job. I don't get a brass razoo. It's got absolutely nothing in the world to do with tobacco companies.

I'm happy for the anti smoking lobby to protest, that's their right, but frankly beyond that it's of no consequence.

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