In December 1969, I wrote an article for Quadrant magazine titled “The derived nature of the Australian new left”. What was the new left over half a century ago would present as the green left today.

My point was that the extreme left in Australia was proudly anti-American. Yet, on university campuses, new left members not only imitated the protests occurring on American campuses against the US commitment in Vietnam. They also borrowed the word usage of such members of the American left intelligentsia as C. Wright Mills and German-born American Herbert Marcuse.

So, it came as no surprise when, on the Sky News Sharri program on Tuesday, I saw footage of a young female Monash University student say this: “Across the world in the US, and Columbia University initially, they (protesters) have started Gaza solidarity encampment. And now they’ve started more in Spain, in Japan and in Australia now as well. We couldn’t let them have all the fun, so we started our own at Monash University.”

So, there you have it. According to this student, because pro-Palestinian student activists at Columbia University in New York set up an encampment within the campus, it makes sense to follow them in Australia. It’s all part of the fun, you see.

In a recent panel discussion on Sky News, young journalist James Bolt referred critically to this phenomenon. What he was not expected to know is that the Australian campus left was in imitation mode in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

What is little understood in contemporary Australia is that many of the student campus protests in the late 1960s and 1970s were quite violent. This was especially the case at Monash University in Melbourne, Sydney University, the University of Queensland in Brisbane and Melbourne’s La Trobe University.

Some students, with the moral support of some left-wing academics, occupied buildings, threatened vice-chancellors and prevented by physical force politically conservative politicians and academics from speaking on campus. In other words, the student left then was as intolerant as the student left today.

There were some courageous university administrators half a century ago. But not many. Sir Zelman Cowen, Queensland University vice-chancellor between 1970 and 1977, gave fine leadership at the time. But most were weak.

Since terrorist group Hamas’s invasion of southern Israel on October 7, Sydney University has been the site of demonstrations against Israel. The protesters allege the university is somehow involved with arming the Israel Defence Forces. The IDF is engaged in a just retaliatory war in Gaza designed to bring about Hamas’s surrender or, if necessary, defeat.

This has seen acts of discrimination on the campus aimed at Jewish Australian students along with some property damage. The response from university management, led by vice-chancellor Mark Scott, has been weak.

On Thursday, Scott said he was “shocked” that an external group had camped at the university where young children were heard to call for “intifada” – which to Israelis means terrorist bombing attacks on public transport and street murders. He is also concerned about graffiti on the university’s sandstone walls and the intimidation of staff and students. Otherwise, everything is okay, it seems.

The Sydney University vice-chancellor has been quoted as saying, “Over the years you can go back to the Vietnam War … there have always been strongly held views and intense debates, that’s part of who we are, our instinct is never to pre-emptively shut down free speech and the right to protest.” All this sounds oh-so-reasonable. Unless you know the left did not allow free speech on campuses during the Vietnam War.

Moreover, in 2015, Sydney University staff and students disrupted a speech by retired British colonel Richard Kemp, who supports the right of Israel to exist within secure borders. He would not get on the campus today.

It’s graduation time at Sydney University. At the commencement of proceedings, an official declares that the university understands “peaceful protests and freedom of expression can be important demonstrations of free speech”. There follows the statement that, at the university, “anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and racism in any of its forms, as well as intimidation and harassment, are never tolerated”.

This is Sydney University in denial. Those entering the university’s Great Hall for the occasion have to pass through a pro-Palestinian encampment. Also, Jewish students have been intimidated and harassed on campus. There are no encampments of pro-Israel supporters and no evident intimidation or harassment of pro-Palestinian supporters or Muslim students.

In Melbourne last Tuesday, former treasurer Peter Costello launched Frank Knopfelmacher: Selected Writings (Connor Court), which is edited by Knopfelmacher’s son, Andrew. Knopfelmacher (1923-95) was a continental European Jew who arrived in Australia in 1955. He became a courageous anti-communist academic at Melbourne University who informed many Australians of the evil of communist regimes.

I remember Knopfelmacher telling me, when a student, that many revolutionaries and terrorists were young when they commenced their attacks on society. This was the case with 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip, whose assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in late June 1914 was to spark what ignited the First World War.

The July 2005 Islamist bombings of London involved two perpetrators under the age of 20. Likewise, the white supremacist who murdered 10 African-Americans in Buffalo, New York, in May 2020 was a teenager. And the Islamist who murdered Curtis Cheng in Sydney in 2015 was 15 years old. There are a number of similar cases – including the arrest of a 16-year old boy in France for allegedly planning an attack on the 2024 Olympic Games.

In recent days, there has been a tendency for some advocates and journalists to describe the 16-year-old who allegedly stabbed a Christian Assyrian bishop in Sydney as “a child” or a “boy”. The accused, who has been charged with religiously motivated terrorism offences, is entitled to a presumption of innocence followed by a fair trial. But it is meaningless to focus on his youth.

The message of recent weeks is that young Australian leftists channel American leftists, and the young can be revolutionaries and terrorists.