Peter Ridd and James Cook University: the Federal Court delivers a devastating blow against free speech
By Paul Homewood
The Federal Court has devastating blow against mainstream Australians, against freedom of speech and against freedom of speech on climate change by overturning the earlier decision in the Federal Circuit Court which held that Dr Peter Ridd was unlawfully dismissed by James Cook University.
Alarmingly, this decision shows that contractual provisions guaranteeing intellectual freedom do not protect academics against censorship by university administrators. The time has come for the Morrison Government to intervene.
This has been Australia’s David vs Goliath battle, with Peter Ridd on one side, backed by thousands of ordinary Australians, and JCU on the other side who secured some of the most expensive legal representation in the country in Bret Walker SC to stifle the free speech of one of its own staff.
Dr Ridd, a professor of physics at JCU, was sacked by the university for misconduct for questioning in the IPA’s publication Climate Change: The Facts 2017 the climate change science around the Great Barrier Reef and for public statements made on the Jones & Co Sky News program.
He is now apparently considering his legal options in relation to a challenge in the High Court of Australia. If he does decide to take up that fight, the Institute of Public Affairs – as well as thousands on mainstream Australians – will continue to support his fight for freedom of speech on climate change.
JCU has engaged some of the most expensive legal representation in the country to stifle the free speech of one of its own staff, despite crying poor about university funding in the wake of coronavirus. It creates a massive chilling effect for any academic engaging in public debate in Australia.
The University’s shameful actions prove without doubt there is a crisis of free speech at Australian universities. Many academics are censured, but few are prepared to speak out and risk their career, particularly if faced with the prospect of legal battles and possible bankruptcy.
The case has identified a culture of censorship when it comes to challenging claims surrounding climate change and the Great Barrier Reef. JCU to this date has never attempted to disprove claims made by Dr Ridd about the Great Barrier Reef.
That last sentence says it all.
Peter Ridd has issued this statement:
Very bad news. JCU succeeded on appeal. We need to read the details but for the moment I would like to say the following.
Universities are different from other workplaces because it is expected that, on occasions, there will be vigorous debates on important and controversial issues. It is essential that academics can engage in these debates without fearing that a wrong word could end their career.
Among my crimes was saying that universities in general were “Orwellian” because they only pretended to value free speech. I also said, based upon years of evidence, that another institution’s work was untrustworthy because of systemic deficiencies in their quality assurance processes. I “satirised” the university’s disciplinary processes against me by implying it was “amusing”.
If universities can crush any robust debate by deciding there is a lack of respect or collegiality, where does this leave an academic who might want to say something of which the administration might disapprove? Better to remain silent.
This case is not an isolated incidence of a university acting to stifle debate. Universities claim that Academic Freedom is “in their DNA” but their actions indicate otherwise. And yet both State and Commonwealth governments continue to fund the universities and fail to insist on traditional standards of decency, academic freedom, and freedom of speech. This is a failure of government as much as a failure of a university.
While JCU had its knee on the neck of free speech – our governments looked on and did nothing.
Fundamental concepts such as academic freedom of speech should not be decided by a few words in a work contract of a malignant university. Higher protection is necessary.
This has always been a battle between the little people and the establishment. I was fired for calling for better quality assurance of science of the GBR and climate change. This science has been used to make government regulations causing major economic damage to Farmers and many other workers of the industries in North Queensland.
I was supported by donations from thousands of people. I thank them all. Also, thanks to my legal team.
I am very sorry that your donation has so far not resulted in a better outcome.
I respect the decision of the Court. I will be seeking legal advice as to my next steps.