Day three of Peter Ridd vs JCU

An email report from Gideon Rozner of the IPA.

Dear supporter of freedom of speech on climate change

As I write this, the third and final day of the hearing in the Peter Ridd case is nearing its conclusion. It has been an extraordinary few days. For one thing, it has been a genuinely fascinating, edge-of-your-seat legal drama. But more importantly, it has been a test case on basic and vital principles of freedom of speech.

Watch my summary of day three of hearings from the Peter Ridd court case in Brisbane.

The day began with the continuation of the defence’s closing argument, which had started the previous day. From my perspective, it looked like Chris Murdoch QC, acting for JCU, had a difficult time putting his case to Judge Salvatore Vasta yesterday. And it didn’t get much better today.

For one thing, Murdoch found it difficult to justify the clear double standards with which JCU has conducted its disciplinary actions against Peter. As we at the IPA have noted throughout this case, JCU have not only sought to throw the book at Peter for his comments about the quality of the science surrounding the Great Barrier Reef, but have also created a ‘star chamber’ dynamic in which all disciplinary proceedings against him were required to be kept confidential.

But as Judge Vasta – and later Stuart Wood QC – noted, JCU did not apply the same premium on confidentiality when it came to Peter’s email account, which was searched in an invasive effort to dig up further breaches of the staff code of conduct.

Judge Vasta also seemed to take issue with the double standard to which JCU judged Peter’s comments about reef science. Yes, Peter used strong language, but then so did Professor Hughes – the colleague of Peter’s who first complained to the university – in his refutation of Peter’s arguments. As Judge Vasta said:

Its words not followed up by actions. Professor Ridd may see what the university is saying [in relation to the need to be ‘collegiate’] but ask: ‘Do they believe that?’ If they did, there would have been a censure of Professor Hughes [as well].

And then, of course, there was the fact that the confidentiality directions were so draconian that Peter was, for a period, refused permission to discuss the allegations against him with his own wife. Judge Vasta made no secret of what he thought of that:

It’s very difficult to justify the behaviour of the university in telling [Peter] that he can’t talk to his wife. How could that be justified? It can’t be. What [JCU] did was reprehensible.

He noted also that the university never once apologised for the ‘turmoil’ of such a prohibitive gag order.

As a side note, sitting behind me in court was Calum Thwaites, who said g’day to me when the court was in a brief adjournment. As many of you will recall, Calum fought his own battle for free speech some years ago, as a QUT student, he was dragged into a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission under the now infamous section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

I remember following the case closely at the time. I wasn’t working for the IPA then (just a humble rank-and-file member), but I remember how important that particular battle was. It was great to see Calum in court supporting Peter who, like him, decided to fight back in the face of attempts to stifle freedom of speech.

But the highlight of the day for me was when Stuart Wood QC started his closing argument for Peter. It was masterful – not just insofar as it was an impressive legal argument, but also in that it was an impassioned defence of what this case is about – academic freedom, open intellectual inquiry and free speech. Mr Wood went through a wealth of case law, showing that intellectual freedom is a fundamental and inalienable right in academia, that it is an ‘ancient freedom’ going back some 2000 years, and one that has been firmly entrenched in common law.

Unfortunately, at this stage I don’t have a transcript of Stuart’s argument – though I certainly intend to get one. But in the meantime, I want to share with you a few fragments I managed to capture and share earlier today on my Twitter account:

Intellectual freedom is integral to a university. James Cook University didn’t invent intellectual freedom, it has a long and proud history. The defence hasn’t addressed that.

The university is saying that it is an ‘error’ to describe academic freedom as a fundamental right. That is extraordinary.

You cannot fillet out what you say from how you say it, and then say it’s not protected by the academic freedom protections. But that’s what our learned friends [acting for JCU] have tried to do.

If the evolution debates in England in the 19th century had occurred at James Cook University, the university would have censured the evolutionists. This is embarrassing: This university, and what it has done to Professor Ridd.

Quite.

As I write this, Mr Wood is still on his feet, and is now going line-by-line through the specific allegations that JCU has thrown at Peter in the years for which this saga has been going. Both Mr Wood and Judge Vasta have indicated that this hearing could well continue into the evening.

I’ll still be here, as will the many supporters of Peter – including several IPA members – who have sat in on these hearings for the past few days. There is a feeling in the room that momentum is on our side. And I am personally optimistic about Judge Vasta finding in Peter’s favour.

(That said, it will be some time before we have an outcome. After today’s hearing wraps up, the judge will retire to consider the arguments and evidence, and deliver his decision at a future date.)

But regardless of the outcome, the efforts of many people must be acknowledged. For one thing, we should congratulate Peter, for not going quietly in the face of efforts by JCU to gag him. There is also his outstanding legal team: Stuart Wood QC, Ben Kidston, Ben Jellis, their instructing solicitors at Mahoneys, and also David Forbes, who has acted as the IPA’s independent legal counsel.

And of course, a big thanks must go to the literally thousands of people who have contributed financially to Peter’s legal fighting fund, raising over a quarter of a million dollars in a matter of days. Because of your help, Peter has been able to match the enormous resources of a taxpayer-funded university. It has been a battle of Peter versus Goliath, but he has not done it alone.

As for us at the IPA, we will continue to keep you updated with news on this important fight for freedom of speech on climate change.

As always, thank you for your support.

regards,
Gideon

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44 Responses to Day three of Peter Ridd vs JCU

  1. stackja

    JCU should be renamed to something else, as James Cook explored the unknown , while JCU wants the so-called reef ‘known science’ unexplored.

  2. Tom

    Many thanks, Gideon. I’m following this attempt by the academic fascist establishment to destroy free thought on campus closely.

  3. 2dogs

    James Cook ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef, so the name may be appropriate.

  4. As I noted in Jo Nova’s blog, it’s amazing what universities and their ilk will do for money. The grants system should be completely reviewed given this sorry state of affairs. This is no longer about science, but filling coffers.

  5. None

    2dogs

    #2972907, posted on March 28, 2019 at 7:32 pm

    Comment of the week 2dogs. Please take note Sinc, because when Peter Ridd wins his case you’ll need an appropriate banneer on your Post.

  6. 2dogs

    Judge Vasta sounds like he is very concerned about JCU’s direction to Ridd not to talk to anyone.

    He may give a win to Ridd on the basis of section 387(d) alone.

    Most HR procedure manuals deal with section 387 (d) by saying disciplining managers must notify an employee being disciplined that they have the right to have a support person present.

    JCU not only did not do this, they did the opposite, and said Ridd couldn’t talk to anyone.

  7. None

    It seems we need to get a copy of Stuart Wood’s closing argument.

  8. Dr Fred Lenin

    If JCU lose this case will the people who committed the wrongdoing be dismissed from the university?
    If no one is punished whats to stop them from doing the sme again?
    I suggest dismissal and the liability of paying all costs involved in the case .
    That would Larn the bastards , nothing like depriving a lefty of their ill gotten gains .
    Pour encourager les autres .

  9. Leo G

    JCU should be renamed to something else, as James Cook explored the unknown , while JCU wants the so-called reef ‘known science’ unexplored.

    My suggestion is Jean Charpin University.
    Charpin was infamous for binding his pirate crew to articles of governance which included non-collegiality penalties such as marooning on a coral cay.

  10. 2dogs

    If JCU lose this case will the people who committed the wrongdoing be dismissed from the university?

    Certainly, the LNP should grill Grace Grace over the issue following a Ridd win.

    She can get sandwiched over both of her portfolios.

  11. duncanm

    Could be the Kealakekua Bay moment

  12. duncanm

    Was Nicholas Rogers head of HR during the melee ?

    He seems to have been hidden in the depths of Mordor (Wales).

  13. duncanm

    Another; the Chancellor.

    https://www.jcu.edu.au/governance/the-chancellor

    who’d have thunk it – career diplomat, DFAT.

  14. Ƶĩppʯ (ȊꞪꞨV)

    Academia is infested with cultural and other marxists.

  15. Mark M

    The JCU – The Just Consensus University.

  16. amortiser

    Re the gagging of Ridd from talking to his wife Judge Vasta didn’t mince his words. Murdoch went out of his way to say there was no charge relating to this. Vasta was having none of it. He said there was no apology for their actions which were abhorrent and reprehensible. He was absolutely scathing.

  17. amortiser

    He also heavily criticised JCU for their double standards in the treatment of academics. Ridd was charged for using the word “spin” in reference to Prof Hughes but when Hughes used similar language he was given a pass.

  18. Ve2

    The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes
    and
    The James Cook University v. Professor Peter Ridd

    The clowns that run JCU could become famous.

  19. .

    amortiser
    #2972988, posted on March 28, 2019 at 9:07 pm

    He also heavily criticised JCU for their double standards in the treatment of academics. Ridd was charged for using the word “spin” in reference to Prof Hughes but when Hughes used similar language he was given a pass.

    Wow, just wow.

    Shut it down. Fire them all.

  20. Lazlo

    Just look up Sandra Harding’s CV. Says it all. She is 100% responsible.

  21. Lazlo

    Love the Journal of Tropical Psychology – pushing back the boundaries of knowledge regarding Going Troppo.

  22. Iampeter

    Dear supporter of freedom of speech on climate change

    If you actually support free speech, then you would support the right of a university to fire someone, whether you personally agree with the decision or not.
    As with the Alex Jones banning, so with this, you guys have no understanding of the basic political terms you’re throwing around and you’re absolutely not on the side of free speech.

  23. Rafe Champion

    I suppose we have to support the right of organizations to hire incompetent CEOs as well. What has that got to do with free speech?

  24. Gilas

    The troll Iampeter’s back!

    Let us all rejoice at his nuanced contrarianism: If you actually support free speech, then you would support the right of a university to fire someone,

    Yes iamp, because destroying someone’s career in kangaroo-court circumstances is simply an expression of academic freedom and free speech.

  25. amortiser

    Stewart Wood did a masterful job in his final address. He clearly set out the intellectual freedom rights as they applied under the Enterprise Agreement (EA).

    Ridd had the right to intellectual freedom subject to the limitation that in doing so he not engage in harassment, vilification, bullying and intimidation. He had the right to engage in public debate and criticise the decisions and policies of JCU subject to that restriction. He didn’t have to be right in what he said, that was for the battlefield of ideas to determine.

    JCU conceded that Ridd had not breached that restriction by engaging in harassment, vilification, bullying and intimidation.

    It its defence, JCU set the restriction bar way lower. In charges relating to Ridd’s appearance on the Jones show on Sky and various emails his remarks about JCU and his colleagues were perjorative, insulting, denigrating, disrespectful, and even inappropriate.

    In the exercise of intellectual freedom Wood made it clear that people could be insulted, ridiculed. In the battle of ideas that outcome is inevitable and that is why the behaviour bar is set so high and in the case of JCU the bar was set at harassment, vilification, bullying and intimidation.

    Wood went through every charge laid against Ridd by JCU and showed that in every case the actions of Ridd were consistent with his rights to intellectual freedom under his EA and that every action JCU had instituted against him was unlawful. He took nearly 5 hours to systemically and meticulously demolish every fragment of the JCU defence. It was a joy to listen to.

    In response Murdoch sounded shell shocked. He mumbled about Ridd having the avenue of the grievance process to express his concerns about decisions and sat down. Case concluded.

    The Judge said that he hoped to conclude his decision by Easter.

  26. 2dogs

    If you actually support free speech, then you would support the right of a university to fire someone, whether you personally agree with the decision or not.

    If it was a private university that did not receive taxpayer money, sure, they could hire and fire who they like.

    But as a taxpayer and therefore joint owner of JCU, their staff work for me. And I expect them to respect academic freedom.

  27. Iampeter

    I suppose we have to support the right of organizations to hire incompetent CEOs as well. What has that got to do with free speech?

    Exactly.
    So, why address your post to, “supporters of freedom of speech on climate change?”

    Yes iamp, because destroying someone’s career in kangaroo-court circumstances is simply an expression of academic freedom and free speech.

    This supports my point about you not understanding free speech.
    Nothing you’ve said here is correct and you don’t know what you’re saying.

  28. Tel

    If it was a private university that did not receive taxpayer money, sure, they could hire and fire who they like.

    Even then … if they have contractual agreements with their staff and an accepted procedural process … which every university in the whole world does … then they cannot arbitrarily and hypocritically impose disciplinary double standards when it suits them. Private employers still have a duty of honesty and fairness with respect to their dealings … and so does everyone … it’s called, “Don’t commit fraud”.

    Government institutions have additional duties because they are a trustee for common resources, and in the educational sphere they are taking money supposedly for the good of future generations.

  29. 2dogs

    Naturally, Tel, a private university should only sack an academic for not towing the party line if towing the party line was part of the contract of employment. Otherwise, as you say, fraud.

    I would have a low opinion of a private university that had such terms in their employment contracts for academics. I certainly wouldn’t think it would be appropriate to base policy decisions on their supposed “science”.

  30. Iampeter

    Even then … if they have contractual agreements with their staff and an accepted procedural process … which every university in the whole world does … then they cannot arbitrarily and hypocritically impose disciplinary double standards when it suits them.

    What you’re describing may be grounds for a lawsuit, but it will never be a free speech issue.

    Government institutions have additional duties because they are a trustee for common resources, and in the educational sphere they are taking money supposedly for the good of future generations.

    You can either argue for getting the government out of universities, or you can argue how best a government can run them. But you can’t argue both.
    This contradiction is a common fallback for people on these issues, when it’s pointed out that they can’t define freedom of speech correctly, adding even more layers of wrong.

  31. .

    If you actually support free speech, then you would support the right of a university to fire someone, whether you personally agree with the decision or not.

    I support the free market (which can have at will contracts, they don’t have to be so) and I consider free speech to be sacred.

    Nothing in that would mean the university has acted properly, let alone that Ridd breached his employment contract which can be severed or rescinded.

    If you are NOT in an at will contract, specifically, one with tenure and explicit or implied free speech that the university agrees to not violate, then how can you be fairly, legally or ethically terminated as an employee if they had lied and made up a reason regarding a code of conduct, and not applied the rules fairly regarding others in the same class of employee as “you*?

    More or less, how is your question even relevant? It is a really low wattage line of inquiry really.

    Free speech does not allow you to make unfounded claims (in ths case, blatant lies) to terminate contracts.

  32. .

    In response Murdoch sounded shell shocked. He mumbled about Ridd having the avenue of the grievance process to express his concerns about decisions and sat down. Case concluded.

    Ooh yes a merits review at the State AAT! Don’t bother exercising any actual legal rights you have!

    Did you also know families of murder victims can forgive the murderers and those who are beaten up can simply consent to the assault!?

  33. Des Deskperson

    ‘who’d have thunk it – career diplomat, DFAT.’

    I dunno what active role, if any, Tweddell played in all this, but DFAT – run by people with the same background as he and from the same work culture – is notorious for its harsh and vindictive treatment of employees who it thinks might have rocked the boat.

    And they tend to get done over in court as a result.

  34. 2dogs

    You can either argue for getting the government out of universities, or you can argue how best a government can run them. But you can’t argue both.

    Why not?

    An architect, say, might not like the idea of a building being erected over his favourite park, but could nevertheless produce a design for such a building that is structurally sound.

  35. Iampeter

    Why not?

    Because you’re either on one side of the issue or the other. The architect in your example is either desiging a building or not.

    But this is missing the point, which is people not understanding the concept of “free speech” falling back on a non-sequitur, where they start explaining how a government should be running something, that it shouldn’t be running anyway, are evading the fact that they don’t understand the concept of free speech.

    That’s a pretty big problem.

  36. Iampeter

    If you are NOT in an at will contract, specifically, one with tenure and explicit or implied free speech that the university agrees to not violate

    No contract you ever have, nor can a University through any action it might take, ever violate your free speech.
    This is what I mean when I say you guys don’t know what free speech even is.

  37. Kneel

    “No contract you ever have, nor can a University through any action it might take, ever violate your free speech.”

    Yes, they can – by threatening your livelihood (risk of being sacked), they can silence you. Of course, you are not obliged to remain silent and can speak and cop the penalty, but this is hardly “free” (as in both “freedom” and “price”) speech, is it?

    “This is what I mean when I say you guys don’t know what free speech even is.”

    Oh yeah – sorry, I forgot that only you get to define terms and you never explain them or yourself.
    Grow up, moron.

  38. .

    No contract you ever have, nor can a University through any action it might take, ever violate your free speech.

    Bullshit. We don’t have free speech in Australia and universities can enforce policies which are in line with our anti free speech laws.

    This is what I mean when I say you guys don’t know what free speech even is.

    This is moronic, Peter. Do better.

  39. 2dogs

    Because you’re either on one side of the issue or the other.

    But you are conflating two different issues.

    The architect is only on one side of the issue as to whether the building should be built – he is opposed.

    He is also he has a view of how to make such a building structurally sound.

    The common term for your mistake here is a “false dichotomy”.

  40. 2dogs

    But this is missing the point, which is people not understanding the concept of “free speech” falling back on a non-sequitur, where they start explaining how a government should be running something, that it shouldn’t be running anyway, are evading the fact that they don’t understand the concept of free speech.

    They have not really misconstrued it. I am sure those here championing Ridd would all still claim that people should have freedom of speech as a unalienable right, and that people should not have to demand it in their employment contracts in order to obtain the right to freedom of speech.

    But if it is the case that someone does happen to have freedom of speech guaranteed by contract, then anyone breaching that term is opposing freedom of speech. At least, they oppose it in that instance at a practical level. They may feel differently, and may in fact not oppose it at the level of the law or the constitution, but they can, in the instance in question, be called an opponent of freedom of speech.

  41. None

    Thanks for the summary amortiser. It sounds like a brilluant demolition job. I hope the court can force the university to give Peter his job that which is ultimately what I think he wants.

  42. Iampeter

    The common term for your mistake here is a “false dichotomy”.

    You’re the one making a mistake here by missing what I’m saying and falling on false analogy which has nothing to do with the actual issue.

    But if it is the case that someone does happen to have freedom of speech guaranteed by contract, then anyone breaching that term is opposing freedom of speech.

    Freedom of speech can not be protected or breached by contracts.
    What do you even think freedom of speech is?

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