Why Peter Ridd won his case against James Cook U

The case was about the university Enterprise Agreement, says Judge Vasta  

Why the case: Professor Ridd is critical, to say the least, of some colleagues’ research on the state of the Great Barrier Reef. The university said he was sacked for breaching the university’s code of conduct in stating his views while Professor Ridd responded he has a right to comment on research CMM yesterday).

What the court found: On Tuesday Judge Vasta found for Professor Ridd in the Federal Court in what is being widely viewed as a victory for academic free speech.

In his full judgement, Judge Vasta says that the case actually “purely and simply about the proper construction of a clause in an Enterprise Agreement.” But he also addressed the importance of protecting academic freedom.

The case turned on whether the university’s code of conduct takes precedence over clause 14 of the university’s enterprise agreement, which covers “intellectual freedom.”  The judge concluded that, “it is actually cl.14 that is the lens through which the behaviour of Professor Ridd must be viewed.”

“Incredibly, the university has not understood the whole concept of intellectual freedom. In the search for truth, it is an unfortunate consequence that some people may feel denigrated, offended, hurt or upset. It may not always be possible to act collegiately when diametrically opposed views clash in the search for truth,” he says.

What this means for other universities: The National Tertiary Education Union campaigns for academic freedom clauses in Enterprise Agreements rather than in university policies. National President Alison Barnes explains why; “the most important implication of this judgement is that the only real protections for academic freedom in Australia are in the enterprise agreements negotiated by the NTEU. Most universities have policies on academic freedom, but they are completely unenforceable and therefore of very limited value.”

Professor Ridd’s views on climate change would be at odds with the strongly held opinions of many NTEU members. However, that is not the point. The right to speak freely about academic matters needs to be especially protected when views are unpopular or controversial. It is greatly to the credit of his colleagues, many of whom disagree with his views, that they did not support the heavy-handed approach of the university management in this case,” Dr Barnes says.


to get daily updates on what's happening in the world of Australian Higher Education