Peter Ridd
Peter Ridd

Sacked professor to mount High Court challenge

SACKED James Cook University Professor Peter Ridd has announced he will escalate his unfair dismissal challenge to the High Court of Australia.

Dr Ridd was sacked from his job of almost 30 years with the university in 2018 after he publicly criticised what he described as the institution's lack of quality assurance and misleading, deficient and sensationalist Great Barrier Reef research.In September, the Federal Circuit Court ordered JCU to pay more than $1.2 million in damages and penalties, finding the university had unlawfully contravened its enterprise agreement.

But the university last week won an appeal against the decision with the full bench of the Federal Court upholding the appeal and setting aside the Federal Circuit Court's September ruling.

In an online fundraising page, Dr Ridd today announced he would escalate the challenge to Australia's highest court.

"We have had a setback, but my lawyers have carefully gone over the judgement, and believe there are numerous strong grounds for appeal to the High Court of Australia," Dr Ridd wrote.

Dr Ridd said he did not take the decision to appeal lightly.

"The financial and emotional costs are high and legal action is fraught with uncertainties," he said.

"In addition to the $300,000 Cheryl and I have spent on this case, I have received from about four thousand people, over $800,000.

"It is matter that rests heavily on my conscience."

Dr Ridd said while he had an "excellent chance" there was the possibility he might lose the case.

"There are, however, too many important principles at stake to walk away at this stage," he said.

"This case has already demonstrated a major problem with academic freedom of speech at a university.

"This ultimately affects what academics are prepared to say on controversial topics such as climate change, or the fate of the Great Barrier Reef."


Former James Cook University professor Peter Ridd - Photo: Cameron Laird/The Australian
Former James Cook University professor Peter Ridd - Photo: Cameron Laird/The Australian


Dr Ridd said pursuing the case would have a far reaching impact on free speech.

"The Commonwealth government has already signalled its intention to consider adapting the French Review Model Code to prevent a similar case," Dr Ridd wrote on his fundraising page.

"This may be the most important long-term implication of the case. Ironically, even if we lose in the High Court, it will demonstrate beyond doubt that the work contracts at universities have the effect of crushing free speech.

"I have little doubt the Education Minister will have something to say about that once the legal action is over.

"So even if we lose the High Court challenge, we still win the ultimate political battle."

More than $250,000 of the $760,000 target has already been raised for Dr Ridd's challenge on the Gofundme website.

"In the final analysis, I was fired for saying that, because of systemic problems with quality assurance, work from the JCU coral reef centre, which also publishes extensively on climate change, was untrustworthy," Dr Ridd wrote online.

"I believe what I said was true and have given plenty of published evidence to support the statement.

"After I was fired, it was proven beyond doubt that I was correct when a group of seven international scientists who audited eight of the major studies from the JCU coral reef centre found them all to be 100 per cent wrong.

"You can't get much more scientifically untrustworthy than that."


Originally published as Sacked professor to mount High Court challenge