An excerpt of Morgan Begg’s epilogue to Peter Ridd, Reef Heresy? (Connor Court Publishing, 2020).
On 22 July 2020, the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia (the Full Court) allowed an appeal brought forward by James Cook University against a decision from a lower court which had found the university’s decision to terminate the employment of Professor Peter Ridd unlawful. The Full Court’s decision was a devastating blow to freedom of speech in questions relating to the Great Barrier Reef and climate change.
The earlier decision of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (the Circuit Court), handed down by Judge Salvatore Vasta on 16 April 2019, had accepted Ridd’s claim of unlawful termination and had temporarily vindicated a long battle for the freedom to have an informed and dissenting voice in a major scientific debate. The Circuit Court’s decision and subsequent order to JCU to pay Ridd $1.2 million in damages was a monumental victory for academic freedom and sounded alarm bells for the scientific establishment that would prefer to silence climate dissenters and have uncontested control of the debate.
The Full Court’s decision instead vindicates the authoritarian tactics of censorious university administrators who would prefer to see a culture of consensus prevail rather than a culture of open debate. These tactics included a series of censures, email searches, and gag orders by way of confidentiality directions given to Ridd – including directions not to disclose information about disciplinary proceedings against him to his own wife.