Law To Protect Academic Freedom Will Prevent Another Peter Ridd Case

Free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs has welcomed the introduction of the Higher Education Support Amendment (Freedom of Speech) Bill 2020 into the House of Representatives, which introduces a definition of academic freedom into legislation in line with the recommendations by former High Court Chief Justice the Hon Robert French AC.

“The Federal Court decision upholding the ability of James Cook University to sack Peter Ridd for exercising his freedom of speech on climate change reveals academic freedom is not protected in Australia. Education Minister Dan Tehan has shown leadership in stepping in to guarantee freedom of intellectual enquiry,” said Gideon Rozner, Director of Policy at the IPA.

As Education Minister Dan Tehan told Sky News this morning: “[James Cook University] wouldn’t have been able to prosecute Peter Ridd if these laws had of been in place.”

“By defining academic freedom in legislation, Education Minister Dan Tehan is ensuring the dismissal of an academic like Peter Ridd can never happen again,” said Mr Rozner.

In 2019 an IPA-commissioned survey of 500 domestic university students found:

  • 41% of students felt they were sometimes unable to express their opinion at university
  • 31% of students had been made to feel uncomfortable by a university teacher for expressing an opinion
  • 59% of students believed they were sometimes prevented from voicing their opinion on controversial issues by other students.

“The cases of Peter Ridd at James Cook University, Drew Pavlou at the University of Queensland and pressure on academics across the country on policy matters related to China have highlighted without doubt that there is a free speech crisis at Australian universities.”

“This bill goes to the core mission of universities for both its staff and students, which is to engage in free intellectual inquiry via free and open debate,” said Mr Rozner.

Drawn from a statement issued by the IPA on 28 October 2020.

The Ridd case – Next steps

Following the Federal Court’s decision in favour of James Cook University’s appeal, Peter has announced he will now take his fight to the High Court.

Peter is accepting donations on his GoFundMe page to fund the next step. His legal fees are considerable and he has already contributed $300,000 of his own retirement funds. He has only been able to come this far with the help of the thousands of ordinary Australians who have donated!

As always, we will keep you updated with further developments in Peter Ridd’s fight for freedom of speech on climate change.

You can read the IPA’s most recent media release on the case here.

The Heretic

The Heretic: Inside Peter Ridd’s fight for freedom of speech on climate change is an insiders’ account of Peter Ridd’s ongoing legal battle with James Cook University. It tells the story of why Peter spoke out on the bad science surrounding climate change and the Great Barrier Reef, the extraordinary lengths that James Cook University went to silence him, and how Peter fought back in court.
The Heretic podcast is now available. To listen click here.

Background on the court case

In May 2018, after an academic career of more than 30 years, Peter had his employment terminated as a professor of physics at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia. Peter had spoken against the accepted orthodoxy that climate change was ‘killing’ the Great Barrier Reef.

There’s some absolute rubbish being spoken about the reef and people’s livelihoods are being put in jeopardy. If nobody will stand up, then this is just going to go on and on and on. It has to be stopped.

Peter’s court case has enormous implications for the international debate about climate change, and for the ongoing crisis surrounding freedom of speech.

Please click here for IPA’s key articles on Peter Ridd’s case, and relevant Great Barrier Reef science.

Click here for more IPA videos on Peter Ridd’s case.

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Gideon Rozner with Peter Ridd

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