Peter Ridd wins a victory for academic freedom against political correctness

Will this be a shot heard around the world?

From Benny Peiser at the Global Warming Policy Forum picking up a feed from The Australian.

A Federal Court judge has ruled that James Cook University acted unlawfully when it sacked professor Peter Ridd after he publicly criticised the institution and one of its star scientists over claims about the impact global warming had on the Great Barrier Reef. Handing down his decision today, judge Salvatore Vasta said that the 17 findings used by the university to justify the sacking were unlawful. –The Australian, 16 April 2019

James Cook University may have already spent over $1 million in legal fees attempting to silence Peter Ridd. They have assumed that sooner or later he would run out of money and courage. But not Peter, with his legal team and support of people like Spectator Australia readers has kept going. Taking this fight to the Federal Court would not have been possible were it not for Peter deciding to take a stand in defence of the truth, to not back down regardless of the consequences. –Jennifer Marohasy, Spectator Australia, 16 April 2019

Some of the backstory.

In 2016 Professor Ridd informed a journalist that Australian Institute of Marine Science at James Cook University was feeding the media with misleading images of the reef to claim that it was suffering severe damage. He alleged that one of his colleagues Professor Terry Hughes was evasive when asked to explain what was going on. Hughes is one of many marine scientist getting major grants to produce research that purports of depict the reef in decline.

This earned Ridd a censure from the University for violating the corporate code of conduct. He repeated the claims on Sky News and earned a second censure. After a third violation, possibly related to email messages to friends, he was sacked in April 2018.

Jo Nova has a piece with many links to get the full story.

With any luck this will generate a wide-ranging and protracted public discussion of the way the universities and research institutes are doing business, especially in relation to climate science and other topics where political correctness is killing scholarship and public debate.

The ABC report.

In a statement, JCU Provost Professor Chris Cocklin disagreed with the judge and said the university was “considering its options”.

“[We] are also troubled by the fact that he fails to refer to any legal precedent or case law in Australia to support his interpretation of our enterprise agreement, or academic freedom in Australian employment law,” the statement said.

Provost Professor Cocklin maintained in the statement that Dr Ridd was not sacked because of his “scientific views”.

“Peter Ridd was never gagged or silenced,” the statement said.

“We maintain we have not taken issue with Dr Ridd’s, nor any other employee’s, rights to academic freedom.

A lot of comments on Watts Up With That.

UPDATE

Taking up a point from RobK’s comment drawing off the full text of the judgement.

Media reports have considered that this trial was about silencing persons with controversial or unpopular views. 2. 3. Though many of those issues were canvased and discussed throughout the hearing of this matter, this trial was about none of the above. Rather, this trial was purely and simply about the proper construction of a clause in an Enterprise Agreement. Whilst the Court acknowledges that there may be consequences that touch upon these other issues because of the Court’s construction of that clause, none of those consequences can play any part in the determination of the proper construction of that clause.
The clause in question is cl.14 of the James Cook University Enterprise Agreement. It is headed “Intellectual Freedom”. It, and it alone, is the focus of this judgement. Even though in this application, the Applicant is asking for the Court to make declarations that the Respondent breached the Enterprise Agreement and therefore contravened s.50 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (“the FW Act”), the parties have asked me to simply rule whether certain findings and directions were lawful.

If it is possible to write enterprise agreements that restrict freedom of speech in a way that stands up in court, this changes the game to challenging the framework of law or conventions that allows such enterprise agreements to exist. This applies in the Folau case as well.

This entry was posted in Global warming and climate change policy, Politics of the Left, Rafe. Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to Peter Ridd wins a victory for academic freedom against political correctness

  1. C.L.

    Peter Ridd wins a victory for academic freedom against political correctness

    Nope.
    He won a victory over lies and fraud.

  2. Enoch Root

    Indeed, this is a great victory. So next, a lot of money to pay Peter for damages and all is to be expected right? That is the bittersweet part: being publicly funded, JCU will pay Peter with taxpayers money. I sincerely hope that the ruling goes after university officials that caused this in the first place and take the financial toll out of their pockets, but maybe I am too naive to hope for that.

    And all because this lunacy of global warming crap was allowed to thrive… what a shame being called a scientist in times like this.

  3. Lazlo

    We contributed $500 – money joining mouth. ROI confirmed.

  4. Tim Neilson

    Peter Ridd wins a victory for academic freedom against political correctness

    Nope.
    He won a victory over lies and fraud.

    The distinction is more theoretical than actual.

  5. RobK

    Congratulations to Peter. The JCU handled this badly and turned it into a disaster that they will have trouble backing out of. The ABC reports JCU is defiant. Never gagged or silenced’
    But at http://blackjay.net/?paged=4it was reported way back:

    Peter Ridd is taking legal action against JCU to preserve his ability to speak about matters pertaining to the quality of GBR science. He got into trouble after making a comment on TV saying that he did not believe that the science coming from two of our science organizations was trustworthy and was given a final censure and told to remain quiet about the matter. He has no intention of accepting the final censure or complying with the order to remain silent and would rather be fired than accept this situation. JCU also used some quite intimidating techniques including reading all his emails in order to find a further 25 examples of what they called misconduct (see link below for details). They were particularly unhappy that he would not remain silent. Even emailing his wife about the matter resulted in further accusations of misconduct. Not the sort of behavior that we should expect from a respected university.

    JCU and the ABC need to pull their socks up.

  6. C.L.

    Israel Folau should contact Ridd’s barrister.

  7. None

    Check out the fuckwitted Provost: there is no precedent for anything as fuckwitted, dishonest and fraudulent as James Cook U’s actions against Peter Ridd, sunshine. Trawling his email and even telling him he can’t speak to his own wife? And this “academic freedom in employment law”? The fuckwitted Provost tells us he was not censored for his academic opinions but hey, you know know “academic Freedom in employment law.” I want a full f****** investigation into James Cook’s publicly funded research on the reef.

  8. James Hargrave

    Having had some experience of university apparatchiks, and having talked to the ‘gagged’ and other victims of senior assistant deputy pro vice dunderheads on two continents, I am not in the least surprised, alas, by the outbreak of foot-in-mouth from the Provost. Overall one might suggest that a dose of tertiary education is more harmful and less intellectually stimulating than one of tertiary syphilis. These institutions make no contribution to knowledge and, to misquote Maurice Bowra slightly, ‘they do not even make a contribution to ignorance’.

  9. None

    Oh my god, people, you really should read the judgement. It is magnificent. I quote:

    The Fifteenth Finding

    212. The University found that Professor Ridd published comments regarding
    the 2017 disciplinary process that were untrue, misleading and/or not
    full and frank. The University found that Professor Ridd failed to act with honesty and integrity in doing so.

    213. The particulars of this finding are that there were two comments published on the WordPress website:
    • JCU also instructed Ridd not to talk to anybody about the existence of their allegations, all the details of the allegations.
    When Ridd asked if he could mention them to his wife, he was not given permission.
    • Even emails to [his] wife were deemed to be further misconduct.

    214. The attitude towards this litigation by the University can be encapsulated
    by the manner in which it has made submissions in relation to this finding.

    215. It is absolutely clear on the evidence before this Court that what
    Professor Ridd has said in this regard is absolutely true.

    216. On 24 August 2017, he was told that he could not mention anything to
    do with the disciplinary process to anyone who was not a support person.
    When he queried whether he could talk to his wife about the matter, he was told in an email on 27 August 2017, that he could not.

    217. Professor Ridd’s statement, that when he asked if he could mention them to his wife, he was not given permission, is the truth. It was not until 19 September 2017, that the University deigned to allow him to talk to his wife about these matters.

    218. Whilst none of this makes any difference at all to my ultimate decision, the actions of the University in this respect are, quite frankly, appalling.
    They have had no regard for the anguish that Professor Ridd felt between 24 August 2017 and 19 September 2017. There has not even been an apology for what can only be seen as extremely callous behaviour. This is inexcusable.

    219. Instead, Professor Ridd is accused of being misleading and untruthful
    because, even though the University eventually allowed him to talk to
    his wife, he did not mention this when he made statements on his
    WordPress website.

    220. The hypocrisy is breathtaking. On one hand, the University is finding that Professor Ridd has breached the Code of Conduct in that he has made public a number of items to do with the disciplinary process. On the other hand, he is accused of breaching the Code of Conduct in that he has not referred to all of that material when he has made this particular statement.

    221. The irony is even more spectacular when one considers that, in his original email to the journalist in 2016, Professor Ridd took the institutions to task for being misleading regarding the use of photographs.
    It seems the University found no problem with the use of those photographs because there was a footnote that led to the Wachenfeld article.

    222. And yet when Professor Ridd pointed out that there was a hyperlink to
    all of the 2017 disciplinary process material (which would include the
    19 September 2017 letter and the subsequent final censure), he is found guilty of a Code of Conduct violation for being misleading. One could be forgiven for thinking that the university was more concerned with the splinter in the eye of Professor Ridd whilst ignoring the plank in their own.

    223. The University still sought to justify this finding on the basis of a breach of the Code of Conduct. I disagree.

    224. Professor Ridd was expressing his opinion about the operations of JCU and expressing disagreement with decisions of JCU.

    225. I find that Professor Ridd was exercising his rights pursuant to cl.14.2 and cl.14.4 of the EA when he made these comments.

  10. None

    The Seventeenth Finding
    235. This is an extremely peculiar finding by the University. The University
    has found that Professor Ridd preferred his own interests, and those of
    the Institute of Public Affairs (“the IPA”), above the interests of the
    University. The University found that this was in breach of the
    obligations under the Code of Conduct to “take reasonable steps to avoid,
    or disclose and manage, any conflict of interest (actual, potential or
    perceived) in the course of employment”.

    236. During the course of the trial, I repeatedly asked Counsel for the
    University to tell me what the conflict of interest actually was. Try as
    he might, Counsel was unable to do so. Yet he would not concede that
    this finding was not justified.

    237. As I said during the course of the trial, I could understand if there was
    an allegation that Professor Ridd declined to fulfil his duties to the
    University and instead went off on a frolic for the IPA. I could also
    understand if there was a demonstrable conflict between the University
    and the IPA and Professor Ridd put the IPA above the University.

    238. But there are no allegations of this sort.

    239. The fact that the University would not concede that this finding was
    unjustified, yet made no submissions to allow me to even consider how
    the finding was justified, is symptomatic of the way in which they have
    conducted this litigation.

    Holy cow this is beyond disgraceful. If headstone troll at JCU over this then really the minister for Education should step in and just sack the board and sack entire executive. It’s a bit of a shame that we’re in caretaker mode at the moment not that I think now weakest piece government will do anything about this outrageous state of affairs. I want a full investigation not just into James Cook but into all climate science research in Australia.

  11. 2dogs

    Oh my god, people, you really should read the judgement.

    Do you have a link? The one at comcourts.gov.au doesnt work properly.

  12. None

    Interpretation of the EA
    240. I have had regard to the submissions of both Counsel and the many
    authorities to which they referred me.
    241. The University has claimed that this Court can find no comfort in
    authorities in the United States that deal with the concept of intellectual
    freedom. This is so because Australia has no underlying constitutional
    right to freedom of speech as expressed in the First Amendment to the
    United States Constitution.
    242. The University submits that to describe “intellectual freedom” as a
    “fundamental right” has no basis in authority. The University submits
    that the way in which cl.14 of the EA must be interpreted is only by
    having reference to the words themselves; and that the exercise of
    intellectual freedom must be done in accordance with the Code of
    Conduct.
    243. It seems to me that such an approach is far too narrow. One wonders
    why the clause finds itself in the EA at all if the approach the University
    is submitting is correct.
    244. There is very little that is said in cl.14 that does not have a corollary in
    the Code of Conduct. As was pointed out earlier, parts of the Code of
    Conduct read as though they are an attempt to rewrite the Intellectual
    Freedom clause.
    245. The question then becomes “if the University is correct, why is there a
    clause in the EA devoted to intellectual freedom?” It would seem that
    the whole of cl.14 is redundant if it is the Code of Conduct that
    determines how any academic or intellectual freedom is to be exercised.
    246. As discussed earlier in these reasons, the concept of intellectual freedom
    is not recent and is extremely important as it helps to define the mission
    of any university. Whilst it may not be a “fundamental right”, it is
    nonetheless the cornerstone upon which the University exists. If the
    cornerstone is removed, the building tumbles.

    Two dogs go to the gofundme page and there’s a link to it from there. I’m just gobsmacked that the university try to say well you’ve got no freedom of speech so we can do whatever we want. Bloody hell what a bunch of fascists.

  13. 2dogs

    Found it – thanks.

    Looks like JCU lost on straight forward breach of contract. The judgement consists of findings of fact that everything that Ridd did was within what was permitted by the intellectual freedom clause.

  14. Entropy

    Out of curiosity, I looked up sal vasta. He isn’t loved by the left, has had some rather high profile judgements overturned, and comes from a liberal party family. His father Angelo was a judge
    His brother is Ross Vasta, current member for Bonner. He did not vote for Turnbull.

  15. RobK

    There’s a link to the judges findings and reasons at WUWT. The intro is interesting:

    REASONS FOR JUDGMENT Some have thought that this trial was about freedom of speech and intellectual freedom. Others have thought that this trial was about the manner in which academics should conduct themselves. Some observers may have thought that this trial was about the use of nonoffensive words when promulgating scientific ideas. Media reports have considered that this trial was about silencing persons with controversial or unpopular views. 2. 3. Though many of those issues were canvased and discussed throughout the hearing of this matter, this trial was about none of the above. Rather, this trial was purely and simply about the proper construction of a clause in an Enterprise Agreement. Whilst the Court acknowledges that there may be consequences that touch upon these other issues because of the Court’s construction of that clause, none of those consequences can play any part in the determination of the proper construction of that clause.
    The clause in question is cl.14 of the James Cook University Enterprise Agreement. It is headed “Intellectual Freedom”. It, and it alone, is the focus of this judgement. Even though in this application, the Applicant is asking for the Court to make declarations that the Respondent breached the Enterprise Agreement and therefore contravened s.50 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (“the FW Act”), the parties have asked me to simply rule whether certain findings and directions were lawful.

  16. Mother Lode

    In a statement, JCU Provost Professor Chris Cocklin disagreed with the judge and said the university was “considering its options”.

    Is the left going to again declare – just as they did after the Cardinal Pell judgement – that it is possibly criminal to disagree with a court’s decision?

  17. Rafe Champion

    Thanks for the clarification RobK I will do an update to take it up.

  18. Amadeus

    The judgement is, methinks, a landmark…a line in the sand, if you will.
    Having followed Peter’s journey through this appalling episode, JCU administrators have been exposed as a pack of socialist amateurs running “….a free-for-all provided you do as we say.”
    That an EBA even contains any words which in any way touch upon freedom of speech and academic freedom shows just how far down the path of communism i.e. controlling people, thoughts and ideas our tertiary institutions have gone. And there is barely a whimper from the useless political class running our wonderful country.
    Go Peter, go Sal Vasta. Now let’s start putting a bulldozer through our third rate universities who contribute more to ignorance than worthwhile knowledge. If “Costly Bill” gets in on May 18, sadly it’s going to be more of the same from our shameful university administrations.

  19. JohnL

    I want a full f****** investigation into James Cook’s publicly funded research on the reef.

    No!
    I want a Royal Commission in the funding of all universities!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  20. Amadeus

    I worked in Eastern Europe for several years during the late 1980s and early 1990s. I know only too well what communism delivers to people, institutions and countries. And to think that that failed and discredited system is seen to have any virtues illustrates the dangerous levels of ignorance within our academic institutions. It is a constant worry that these overpaid, sinecured nutters are teaching our children.

  21. JohnL

    I worked in Eastern Europe for several years during the late 1980s and early 1990s. I know only too well what communism delivers to people, institutions and countries. And to think that that failed and discredited system is seen to have any virtues illustrates the dangerous levels of ignorance within our academic institutions. It is a constant worry that these overpaid, sinecured nutters are teaching our children.

    I was born in 1946 in communist Czechoslovakia and grew up, was educated and worked there until 1969 when I escaped coming to Australia. I can tell you a bit not only about education but of life in the beautiful communist utopia.
    That I am experiencing deja vu in today’s Australia would be an understatement!

  22. pete m

    Fairly simple judgment that the code of conduct does not override the EA right to intellectual expression.

    The finding was that none of his statements breached the conditions for intellectual expression.

    JCU upset the judge did not reference authority for any of his findings is irrelevant as this was a factual exercise, given the interpretation exercise was so basic. So basic they completely fluffed it themselves!

    I was worried when I saw Judge Vasta was hearing this trial given his criminal law background (former State prosecutor) and his criticism in a family law matter. However, the Judge has dealt with this in a workmanlike straightforward manner.

    Some may say parts of Ridd’s comments were offensive to other scientists given he called them for scientific malpractice, so an appeal could be considered to have some prospects on this issue.

  23. NB

    I know that next year, after the Liberals have won the upcoming election, Peter Ridd will be awarded Australian of the Year.
    I also know that Bill Shorten is a really genuine guy.
    😉

  24. jupes

    Will this be a shot heard around the world?

    Nope. It won’t even be heard in Australia.

    The ABC has posted the story under “Brisbane” so anyone who relies on the ABC for news but doesn’t click on that link (and why would you if you don’t live there) will have no idea that it even happened.

  25. stackja

    Uni professor sacked for questioning global warming has been vindicated
    2 HOURS AGO
    ALAN JONES JAMES COOK UNIVERSITY PETER RIDD

    A university professor who was sacked for questioning global warming’s impact on the Great Barrier Reef has been vindicated by the Federal Court.

    Judge Salvatore Vasta ruled James Cook University acted unlawfully when it sacked Professor Peter Ridd in 2017.

    In his verdict, Judge Vasta found that all 17 findings used by the university to justify the sacking were unlawful.

    Alan Jones has been supporting the professor ever since, slamming the university for shutting down debate and free thinking.

    Professor Ridd says the judgement is welcome but tells Alan Jones his fight doesn’t appear to be over.

    “Even now the university isn’t accepting the decision.

    “The vice-chancellor’s issued an email to all staff saying the judge was wrong basically.

    “If the VC continues with the present form, I don’t think it is over.”

    Click PLAY below to hear the full interview

  26. Kneel

    “Some may say parts of Ridd’s comments were offensive to other scientists given he called them for scientific malpractice,…”

    He gave them the opportunity to defend themselves in an intellectual setting, but they declined to make a case – perhaps they couldn’t or perhaps they didn’t think they needed to. In any case, such arguments are usually nasty and vicious, and in my view the gentleman Dr Ridd was speaking about came back with what can easily be argued as similar language, yet was not even censured.
    JCU should have requested arguments from both sides and investigated where appropriate and possible. They didn’t. They just sacked the guy threatening their funding, instead of the guy threatening their reputation. Which says more about JCU than the actual case.

  27. Cynic of Ayr

    Steady on, people. This was not a judgment of Academic Freedom or Free Speech. It was a judgment on Peter Ridd’s lawful right to Academic Freedom, written into an employee’s agreement.
    Consider, IF the agreement had said there was no Academic Freedom, then Peter Ridd would have lost, because he broke the agreement.
    All the Judgment said is that he did not break an agreement.
    The downside is that it is not impossible that Universities in general will fix this “loophole” and remove Academic Freedom from employment agreements.
    Should this happen, then it is up to the Government, and the Public, to mount an outraged challenge to Universities that is it they who denigrate Academic Freedom.
    Of course, the employees have to sign such an agreement, but as is obvious from the debacle, that being a Professor does not guarantee honesty and integrity. In fact, this judgment clearly shows that there was one with it, and five without it.

  28. None

    Correct Cynic. That’s why The fuk Wit Provost was going on about academic Freedom within an employment contract. Nevertheless James Cook University could not even administer their own contracts fairly and the judgement crucifies them for incompetence. Now imagine if these incompetent fascists also decided that you are not going to have free speech or academic freedom.

  29. Iampeter

    If you can’t sack someone without getting sued then there is hardly a victory for any kind of freedom, let alone “a victory for academic freedom against political correctness.” Quite the opposite in fact.
    While we might all agree with Ridd on CAGW, surely that doesn’t entitle him to a public funded job?

    Predictably coverage of this from the conservative side of the web is just awful, as there does not seem to be even a shred of understanding of political fundamentals, leading to a completely back-ass-wards assessment of the situation once again.

  30. Roger

    While we might all agree with Ridd on CAGW, surely that doesn’t entitle him to a public funded job?

    The point is his employment was terminated unlawfully.

    Don’t be so obtuse.

  31. RobK

    Pete,
    You seem to have missed the following bit of the judge’s reason;

    The clause in question is cl.14 of the James Cook University Enterprise Agreement. It is headed “Intellectual Freedom”. It, and it alone, is the focus of this judgement

    His termination was in breach of their mutual agreement.

  32. Roger

    If it is possible to write enterprise agreements that restrict freedom of speech in a way that stands up in court, this changes the game to challenging the framework of law or conventions that allows such enterprise agreements to exist. This applies in the Folau case as well.

    Precisely; a contract cannot mitigate against a public good, e.g. freedom of speech or religion.

  33. Iampeter

    “Unlawful termination” or some equivalent, is a Marxist concept. You don’t have a right to a job.
    I support peoples right to have government funded jobs as in today’s world that might be the only way to do what you love doing.
    I also support the right of people to sue for any reason, even if I might disagree with it.
    But to pretend what is happening here is a win for “academic freedom” or “free speech” or any of the other coverage that’s out there, is such a gross misrepresentation of such fundamental and important political concepts as to disqualify one from any serious discussion about politics.

    Precisely; a contract cannot mitigate against a public good, e.g. freedom of speech or religion.

    “Public good” is another Marxist concept, which I would expect the majority of posters on a Libertarian and Center-Right blog to join me in opposing.
    A contract also can’t violate your freedom of speech, or religion, or any other freedom by definition. No action you take volountarily, like sign a contract, can violate your rights.

    This is what I mean. With support of freedom like this, it doesn’t need enemies.

  34. John Stankevicius

    Personally, a court with a judge ruled in his favour is mind blowing.
    I was expecting Professor Ridd to be vilified by the judge.

  35. cohenite

    Cynic of Ayr

    #2990161, posted on April 17, 2019 at 1:16 pm

    Steady on, people. This was not a judgment of Academic Freedom or Free Speech. It was a judgment on Peter Ridd’s lawful right to Academic Freedom, written into an employee’s agreement.
    Consider, IF the agreement had said there was no Academic Freedom, then Peter Ridd would have lost, because he broke the agreement.
    All the Judgment said is that he did not break an agreement.
    The downside is that it is not impossible that Universities in general will fix this “loophole” and remove Academic Freedom from employment agreements.

    This is an interesting take on the Ridd Judgment. It is totally misleading. No other executive contract I am aware of has such a liberty/freedom/indulgence, call it what you will as intellectual freedom. It is not just a clause in an employment contract, it is the essence of being employed as an academic, particularly a scientific academic. The Judge states this plainly at clause 6 onwards. He also states that an EA at JCU must have such a clause in it because universities are places where intellectual freedom not only exists but defines them.

    This case has set a precedent for all future disputes between academics and repressive University employers. IN that respect even if the EA does not have a specific reference to intellectual freedom such a clause could be implied into it on the basis of this case.

    God bless this Judge and Peter Ridd (channelling Israel)

  36. amortiser

    Vasta referred to the “conflict of interest” charge and the fact that JCU failed to give any details. When Murdoch SC for JCU raised this matter in the court, Wood QC for Dr Ridd jumped to his feet and warned Murdoch that he was risking contempt of court action in pursuing this. Murdoch immediately sought an adjournment to consider his position.

    It didn’t go any further. I gathered that since Ridd had instituted proceedings against JCU for the charges they had made against it this was impacting on those proceedings. The IPA was financially supporting Ridd in his action and here was JCU levelling conflict of interest charges against him for his accociation with the IPA. This amounted to a threat against Ridd for taking legal action which is a serious contempt of court.

    This is why JCU has failed to give any details of this supposed conflict of interest as they would be further exposed to serious court action. These clowns have no real awareness of what they have been doing.

  37. “Unlawful termination” or some equivalent, is a Marxist concept. You don’t have a right to a job.

    The contract was unlawfully terminated you clown.

    Honk Honk.

    “Public good” is another Marxist concept, which I would expect the majority of posters on a Libertarian and Center-Right blog to join me in opposing.

    I am absolutely certain that you are a cretin and a troll now.

  38. Lazlo

    Hell will freeze over before the NTEU will allow Academic Freedom clauses to be removed from EAs. This is despite the Ridd case being an unintended consequence that must be sticking in some NTEU craws.

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