Sacked academic: ‘Even if we lose, we’ll win’
The James Cook University professor sacked after criticising a "lack of quality assurance on reef science" believes even if he loses his unfair dismissal High Court battle, he'll ultimately win the war for free speech.
Peter Ridd will take his long-running legal fight with the university to Australia's highest court this week after the Federal Court last month overturned an earlier ruling that found the university had unlawfully contravened its enterprise agreement by dismissing him.
Dr Ridd's lawyers are expected to apply for leave to appeal the Federal Court's decision in the High Court on Tuesday, a decision the scientist said he did not make lightly.
"It was a difficult decision (to appeal) because we needed to be reasonably confident, we needed to know we have got a good chance of winning," Dr Ridd said.
"I wasn't just going to take another $600,000 of people's hard earned cash unless I had advice that we had a very strong chance. Which is the advice I've been given."
Donations have flooded in to a GoFundMe page set up to pursue the costly legal battle with more than $600,000 of the $750,000 needed already raised since Dr Ridd announced his intention to continue the fight last month.
"I think people are supporting us because people really want to win on this," he said.
"They feel they're part of it which they are. They are actually a part of it, especially the farming community."
Dr Ridd said by the time the case wrapped up, the legal fight would have cost his side alone more than $1.6 million, much of which has been donated by passionate supporters.
"It's unbelievable," he said.
"We thought when we did the first go fund me we'd only get $500. So it is incredible."
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 month won an appeal against the decision with the full bench of the Federal Court upholding the appeal and setting aside the ruling.
Dr Ridd said while the long-running battle was stressful, he was heartened by the changes and awareness already sparked by his fight, including the parliamentary inquiry into ensuring evidence-based regulation of farm practices that impact water quality on the Great Barrier Reef.
"I was fired for saying there's a lack of quality assurance on the reef and the senate inquiry was drilling into that," Dr Ridd said.
"JCU keeps on saying they never stopped me saying scientific things but they have because my comments were about quality assurance.
"I said there was insufficient quality assurance which made their work untrustworthy. They fired me for saying that. They cannot say that they didn't gag me in some way."
Education Minister Dan Tehan has also announced an independent review to evaluate the progress universities have made to implement the French Model Code on free speech and academic freedom.
"The irony is that if we lose in the High Court it will actually mean that academic freedom of speech is effectively dead," Dr Ridd said.
"And I think that will then precipitate serious action by the Federal Government so ironically even if we lose, we still win.
"It certainly does feel like (a lot of pressure) on occasion but when you see the support coming in and even the fact there's a review you're thinking 'well we're actually going ahead here one way or another and it's worthwhile doing this'."
The Townsville-based scientist said he hoped to see two major changes stem from his fight.
"The first one is I want to see the farmers get a fair go by getting some proper quality assurance on science that's being used against them," he said.
"The second thing is that universities have got to learn that they've got to be very liberal with the idea of free speech, that it's essential and they just can't have any rules that dampen that in any significant way."
Originally published as Sacked academic: 'Even if we lose, we'll win'