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Halls of shame – Australian Universities ban free speech

James Cook University in Cairns leads the pack. Their precious academics don’t like peer reviews of their sometimes dodgy work. Never let the facts get in the way when appeasing governments for more and bigger grants.

A dark cloud hangs over the future of academic freedom of speech in Australia following the High Court’s ruling today against Great Barrier Reef expert Dr Peter Ridd, Katter’s Australian Party MPs have said.

The KAP which – alongside a variety of other supporters from across the country – have stood in solidarity with Dr Ridd as he took his former employer James Cook University (JCU) to court after being sacked in 2018, said the professor deserved to be applauded for his tenacity.

MHR Bob Katter; Dr Peter Ridd; Nick Dametto MLA and leader of KAP, Robbie Katter MLA address a recent cane industry forum in Ayr.
Dr Ridd said today he “may have lost a battle but he will win the war.”

Hinchinbrook MP Nick Dametto said today’s decision by the High Court meant, by law, Dr Ridd was in breach of his of JCU work contract when he publicly raised quality assurance and trust concerns around fellow researchers’ works.

The ruling had nothing to do with Dr Ridd’s expertise on the GBR or the validity of his scientific views, he said.

Mr Dametto currently has a Bill before the Queensland Parliament seeking a full repeal of the Palaszczuk Labor Government’s Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2019.

This Bill, labelled as “farm-destroying” due to the onerous requirements it places on North and Central Queensland cane growers, was predicated on water quality research similar to that which was questioned by Dr Ridd.

Dr Ridd has long called for the establishment of an Office of Science Quality Assurance to question and monitor the validity of scientific research used to underpin government policy.

“We believe that, in the court of public opinion, Dr Ridd has been successful,” Mr Dametto said.

“As a scientist, academic and individual we believe he deserves to be applauded for putting everything on the line to fight for what he, and many others, believe in, which is the fundamental importance of freedom of speech and academic integrity.

“In the name of standing up for what he thought was morally right and just, Dr Ridd has sacrificed his job and potentially his career and reputation, but he has done this because he believed it was right to at least question the science. 

“Few people understand the effects of sediment and nutrient run-off to the GBR better than Dr Ridd, and systemic quality assurance problems are still plaguing the way GBR ‘science’ is being used to affect modelling that drives government policy and public opinion. 

“The gravest concern attached to today’s ruling is that it has the real potential to scare off anyone else who wants to raise their head out of the trenches to question not only the reef science institutions but also science across the board.”

Mr Dametto said that, without academic freedom, there was a potential to stifle the progression of science and send us back to a time of limited academic thinking not seen since the Dark Ages. 

Kennedy MP Bob Katter said that the cases of Ridd and Pavlou made it quite obvious that there was no freedom of speech on Australia’s university campuses.

“Peter Ridd was expressing opinions, and that has been the entire essence of universities since the days of Plato and Socrates,” he said.

“There must a free expression of ideals for universities to operate properly. When I was at university I disagreed with radicals who opposed Vietnam but I defended tenaciously their right to free expression of their point of view.

“The CEO class now run the universities, the corporations and half the trade unions. They are stifling freedoms in this country.”

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