Professor Peter Ridd writes:
We finally got home from Brisbane where the court hearing was held about 1200 km to the south, and it has been good to reflect on events. I am very hopeful and Judge Vasta seemed to indicate that he would try to hand down his judgement around Easter. So, until then we should wait and see.
As mentioned, the case delivered by Stuart Wood QC was brilliant. He did not focus on legal technicalities but instead concentrated on the concept of Intellectual Freedom. This was a very deliberate decision – if we are to win, it had to be on this point because in the end this was the root cause of the problem and the reason that there was wide public interest. Academics with controversial ideas on anything, including climate change and whether the damage to the Great Barrier Reef is being exaggerated, should be allowed to speak. In fact, they should be encouraged to speak. In addition, the focus on the wider problem might mean that the final judgement will have broader implications to the way our universities operate.
We contend that I had my Intellectual Freedom taken away under the context of a vague Code of Conduct. Stuart Wood QC argued how this was legally in error. He also demonstrated how this was totally contrary to the way a university should work. One of many highlights was when Wood QC used the JCU barristers’ own words that described my offending comments as “inappropriate” to show how the Code of Conduct could restrict any controversial comment. Who decides if my words are inappropriate – the university. “Inappropriate” sets a very low bar and a sensible academic knows that the best strategy is to either say nothing or make sure it is in agreement with the university administration – i.e. there is no freedom. By the Code of Conduct, a challenge as insignificant as a nasty look or a steely glare could be defined as a breach. And by JCU’s construction, the intellectual freedom clauses in our work contract are no protection.
Wood QC started with a discussion of the centrality of debate and disagreement in the rise of western civilisation and science. He quoted interesting examples of famous debates, which if they had occurred today at JCU and most other universities, would have resulted in both sides of the debate being fired for breaking what boils down to the Code-of-Politeness- Political-Correctness-and-What-the-University-Administration-Decides.
I must get a full transcript of Wood’s address for more detail but he then narrowed down to the specifics of my misdemeanours. These boiled down to 9 main categories and Wood took his time on each one. He gave the background and context, he looked at the detailed evidence (generally email trails from JCU’s search-for-dirt), and then demonstrated how in every case the University had broken its obligation to intellectual Freedom.
Wood QC finally considered the confidentiality directions that JCU used to try to keep everything secret and considered the clause in my work contract that was there to protect me against JCU releasing my information without my consent. This was completely opposite to JCU’s interpretation which was that it ALWAYS gave them the power to ALWAYs keep matters secret. One has to wonder why they are so ashamed that they needed to keep it secret.
The way the legal team worked was remarkable. Wood QC is by general agreement the top Industrial Relations lawyer in Australia and he had two barristers and two solicitors backing him up and feeding him the documents as he talked. He spoke non-stop for 4 hours in the final afternoon and it was like watching the reloading and firing of a 15 inch naval gun at the JCU ship. It was withering, relentless, and merciless. I wish there was a video of it. In my opinion, and let’s hope the Judge agrees, by the time he had finished JCU’s position was a sinking hulk. I felt sorry for their barristers (but maybe they will have the last laugh)
In the final analysis this case will be decided on whether the Code of Conduct trumps Intellectual Freedom or vice-versa. If JCU is correct, then it can no longer be considered to be a proper university and the government will have to do something about the way universities are governed and funded. If we are right, we will have to then look at how similar work contracts are likely being misused in most other Australian universities, and I suspect, around the western world.
John Roskam explains why Dr Peter Ridd deserves to continue his vital work at JCU and what JCU are costing themselves and Australia with their actions. WATCH: