Thursday, July 23, 2020

Dr. Ridd: James Cook University wins unlawful sacking decision

The grounds for the university's actions were contemptible.  He was sacked for disagreeing with his colleagues.  If academics cannot disagree with one-another, where does that leave the search for truth?

He was not even abusive in what he said. He just said that their conclusions needed more validation -- a scientific comment if ever there was one. 

This needs to go to appeal but funding may be a barrier to that

The reason for the furore is that the JCU scientists said that the reef was damaged by global warming.  Dr. Ridd demurred

The Federal Court has allowed an appeal of a decision which found James Cook University acted unlawfully in its 2018 sacking of Peter Ridd, after the professor questioned colleagues' research on the impact of global warming on the Great Barrier Reef.

Dr Ridd was awarded $1.2 million in damages by the Federal Circuit Court in September, which had earlier found JCU sacked the physics professor unlawfully.

The case attracted intense focus due to Dr Ridd's scepticism of climate change science and the broader debate about free speech at Australian universities.

The university reiterated last year it would launch the appeal, and has maintained its sacking of the professor was based on his treatment of colleagues rather than the expression of his scientific views.

Dr Ridd had originally sought reinstatement to his position but later abandoned this in favour of compensation.

In a judgment published on Wednesday, the Federal Court set aside that compensation decision and allowed the university to appeal the earlier ruling it had acted unlawfully.

Justices John Griffiths and Roger Derrington found Dr Ridd's enterprise agreement did not give him "untrammelled right" to express his professional opinions beyond the standards imposed by the university's code of conduct.

The termination of his employment did therefore not breach the Fair Work Act, they said.

Outlining his final declarations and penalties last year in September, Federal Circuit Court Judge Salvatore Vasta suggested the university's conduct had bordered on "paranoia and hysteria fuelled by systemic vindictiveness".

"In this case, Professor Ridd has endured over three years of unfair treatment by JCU – an academic institution that failed to respect the rights to intellectual freedom that Professor Ridd had as per [his enterprise agreement]," the judge decided.

Conservative think-tank the Institute of Public Affairs described the new Federal Court judgment on Wednesday as a "devastating blow" to freedom of speech.

"Alarmingly, this decision shows that contractual provisions guaranteeing intellectual freedom do not protect academics against censorship by university administrators," IPA director of policy Gideon Rozner said. "The time has come for the Morrison government to intervene."

He added that Dr Ridd was now considering his legal options around a High Court challenge.


'We're going to need the Australians': Pompeo lays out contest with China

Even Julia Gillard said that America can rely on Australia

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said global institutions trying to deal with an aggressive China are no longer fit for purpose, in part because Australia does not have a leading role in many of them.

And in extraordinary comments, Pompeo has hit out World Health Organisation boss Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, accusing him of aiding China's initial cover-up of the pandemic, saying that was the reason for "dead Britons" because he has been "bought by the Chinese government".

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo encouraged other nations to follow the UK's lead and push back against the actions of the Chinese Communist Party. Speaking on an official visit to London, Pompeo also described China's leadership as a threat.

Pompeo made the remarks in London to an assortment of British MPs at the Millbank headquarters of the Henry Jackson Society, a think tank that is hawkish on China. The society has been instrumental in leading the putsch against British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's original approval for Chinese firm Huawei to build Britain's 5G networks.

MPs from all parties, including the Conservative and Labour parties as well as the Liberal Democrats attended the meeting, which was held before the former CIA director met Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

A source in the room said MPs asked Pompeo questions, mostly about how Britain could best deal with China, which has struck an aggressive posture since the pandemic.

Britain's own response has hardened as a result with the government suspending its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, extending its arms embargo to the territory, offering 3 million Hong Kongers potential citizenship and blocking Huawei from supplying its 5G networks.

In the meeting, Britain's former deputy prime minister and Conservative backbencher Damian Green asked Pompeo about the likelihood of assembling a global coalition to respond jointly to China to prevent it from steamrolling smaller countries.

Pompeo said any new coalition would need to perform better than the current multilateral institutions such as the United Nations Security Council where China has an automatic veto.

Pompeo said the US had boosted funding to NATO and sent it some of its best China analysts to help Europe better understand the Chinese military and its tactics. He listed the G7 and G20 among the many tools "out there" to try to uphold the international rules-based order.

Australia is a member of the G20 but not the G7; it last sat on the UN Security Council in 2014 and is bidding again for a position in 2029, which is the earliest opportunity because only one country from the Asia-Pacific region is eligible to contest each term.

But Australia's pushback against Chinese interference, including its world-leading ban on Huawei from critical telecoms networks, has earned it a reputation abroad as a pioneer in striking a security posture alongside its economic relationship with the world's second-largest economy. China is Australia's largest two-way trading partner.

"We just have to decide if any of those [multilateral institutions] are fit for purpose ... I also think that they're not shaped right for this current confrontation," Pompeo is said to have told MPs.

Pompeo said the US was actively thinking about how to resolve the issue but had not reached an answer. Greater representation was needed from south-east Asia, he said.

"We're going to need the 1 billion-plus people in India, we're going to need the Australians - it's going to take all of these democracies together."

But the most extraordinary response came when Labour MP Chris Bryant pressed Pompeo on the United States undermining the rules-based order with its own actions by quitting the Paris climate accord, World Health Organisation and Human Rights Council.

Pompeo prompted laughter when he coined them the "three sins" but strongly defended quitting the WHO, which he said was a "political" and not a "science-based organisation".

Both the British and US governments are facing fierce criticism for their COVID-19 death tolls. The US has the highest toll in the world, followed by Brazil, India and Russia. Britain is in the top 10 countries to lose the greatest number of people to the disease.

Pompeo did not provide MPs with any evidence to back his claim that Tedros had been "bought" by China.

"When push came to shove, when it really mattered to us, when there was a pandemic in China, Dr Tedros — who was hook line and sinker bought by the Chinese government — and I can't say more but I can tell you I'm saying this on informed intelligence.

"There was a deal made in the election [of Dr Tedros as the head of WHO] and when push came to shove you've got dead Britons because of the deal that was made," Pompeo said.

Speaking at his news conference earlier, Pompeo said of China: "You can’t engage in cover-ups and co-opt international institutions like the World Health Organisation."

The World Health Organisation denied the existence of any deal backed by China to support Tedros' election to the leadership position.

"WHO is not aware of any such statement but we strongly reject any ad hominem attacks and unfounded allegations," a spokesperson said to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

"WHO urges countries to remain focused on tackling the pandemic that is causing tragic loss of life and suffering."

Pompeo said the US had quit the Human Rights Council because it was "ridiculous". "To be part of the Human Rights Council who sanctions Israel but not China is nuts," he said.


Coronavirus: how likely are international university students to choose Australia over the UK, US and Canada?

Unmentioned below is that Australia is in roughly the same time zone as China.  Hence no jetlag when travelling from one to the other -- a big plus

Australian universities are suffering revenue and job losses due to the current and projected loss of international students. A Mitchell Institute report has estimated the sector may lose up to A$19 billion in the next three years, while modelling from Universities Australia shows more than 20,000 jobs are at risk over six months, and more after that.

On April 3, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said international students in Australia could return home if they could not support themselves. Commentators feared such a flippant attitude would cause Australia to lose its world class reputation if it didn’t come to the aid of international students.

Months of tension with China (the biggest source of Australian university international students, at a third of the total) threatened to further jeopardise our international standing.

On Monday, the Australian government announced it will restart granting international student visas and allow current students to count online study while overseas in a push to restart international education.

Australia imposed a ban on travel from China on February 1, stranding an estimated 87,000 students abroad who were due to start their academic year in Australia in March.

By that time it was the middle of the second, or winter, semester for Australia’s big English language competitors in the northern hemisphere: the USA, UK and Canada. Most of these countries’ international students stayed to complete their semester, so universities did not suffer an immediate fall in revenue.

But universities in these countries did incur substantial additional costs as many completed the semester by transferring teaching online at short notice.

While online education meets similar standards to campus-based education, students prefer face-to-face learning. This is particularly true for international students, who see immersion in a different culture as one of the main benefits of studying overseas.

In May, many US and UK universities announced bullish plans to teach their first semester in autumn, starting in September, face-to-face (or mask-to-mask). There were various provisions for plexiglass, physical distancing, masks and regular testing.

But even partial campus reopening plans were never credible in the US when they were announced. Still, many universities in the competitor countries sought to maximise international enrolments by maintaining at least a substantial part of their campuses would be open by September.

The US

US universities no longer seem to be nearly as strong competitors for international students. While the number of new COVID-19 cases has bumpily fallen in Australia, Canada and the UK, they have been increasing in the US.

When it became clear US universities could not responsibly open their campuses, they started reversing their announcements of opening fully in September.

By July 20 some 53% of 1,215 US universities surveyed still planned to teach in person in September, 11% planned online education, 32% planned a mix of online and in person education, and 4% were considering a range of scenarios or had not yet decided their education mode.

US President Donald Trump sought to pressure universities to open fully by making studying at least partly on campus a condition of international students’ visas. He soon reversed that order, but may issue an alternative seeking the same effect.

US attractiveness as an international study destination is likely to be further reduced by the instability in universities’ plans, the uncertainty of federal immigration conditions, and continuing restrictions on entry from China and elsewhere.

The United Kingdom

Australian universities are in a much more similar position to UK universities, which are long time and powerful rivals for international students. They are expecting to lose substantially from COVID-19’s suppression of international enrolments.

Unlike Australia, the UK government has granted universities access to government-backed support such as a job retention scheme which includes short-term contracts, and business loan support.

The UK government has also brought forward teaching payments and block research grants, and increased funds for students in financial difficulty.

Unlike Australia, the UK does not impose international travel restrictions but requires entrants from most countries including China and India to self-isolate for a fortnight after entry. It will therefore remain a more attractive destination for new students until Australia lifts or at least relaxes its travel restrictions.


Canadian universities and colleges have some distinct advantages over their competitors for international students. They enjoy considerable financial and other support from their national and provincial governments.

While Canada’s average proportion of new COVID-19 cases is similar to Australia’s and the UK’s, these are concentrated in the biggest cities of Toronto, Montreal and their environs. The Atlantic provinces have Tasmanian levels of COVID-19 cases, and some of their universities attract very high proportions of international students.

Canada’s biggest competitive disadvantage is that while it will admit returning international students, it currently is not admitting new students for the foreseeable future.

The Canadian government will grant permits to international students who study online from abroad, and like Australia this will count towards their eligibility for a post-graduation work permit. The government has also introduced a temporary two-stage approval process for international students to expedite their approval to enter to study on campus when this is permitted.

But Canada is not likely to be a desirable destination for new international students until the government and then institutions can give a firm timetable and clear plans for studying on campus.

So, what should Australia do?

To remain competitive compared to the UK, Australian universities should keep prospective students updated on the issues that affect their study decisions such as entry requirements, start dates, and study and accommodation conditions. This communication should be targeted towards education agents and their clients, and be specific to individual students.

Few students and their parents are convinced about the value and quality of online education. And they fear much of the benefit of immersion in an English speaking university environment would be lost if spatial distancing required social distancing.

Australian universities will have to be as clear as they can about the benefits of the study and living conditions students are likely to experience here.


Australia’s magazine industry hard hit

Yesterday, Bauer Media closed eight of the most famous magazines in Australia

It says a lot about how far – and how fast – the Australian magazine industry has fallen that when Bauer’s press release arrived on Tuesday morning, it didn’t come as a surprise.

Eight of the country’s most famous (and in some cases, most respected) magazines have closed.

From the top end of the market, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and InStyle.

From the health sector, Men’s Health, Women’s Health and Good Health.

And from the trashier end, NW and OK.

I’ll remember InStyle for putting on one of the glitziest magazine gala nights I’ve been to.

I’ll think of Men’s Health as a motivational, and occasionally inspirational, source of reasons to get back on a health kick.

And NW will be remembered as the waste of space typified by its final cover – made up stories about Brad Pitt (not) having a lovechild, Tom Cruise (not) getting married, and Hamish Blake (not) expecting a third baby.  NW – A work of fiction until the end

With the titles already suspended, there will be no final goodbye edition to readers.

But it will hopefully be the last piece of bad news we hear before the name Bauer disappears from the Australian media industry as the company rebrands in Australia and starts again under its new ownership.

And it seems fitting that the end should have come in as classless a way as possible, as that sums up the last eight years of Bauer family proprietorship.

When the COVID emergency led Bauer to suspend the magazine titles back in April, around 70 staff were made redundant and a similar number stood down.

At the time, few believed that the titles would come back, and others suspected the reason for suspending rather than closing was a cynical one.

Bauer told those stood down staff that it was unable to get them the government’s JobKeeper payments – the German parent company was either unwilling or unable to prove its revenues had fallen sufficiently for them to qualify.

It left those staff in a horrible limbo – without income but still technically employed. The staff faced a dilemma – resign to try to access JobSeeker payments, or hang on in the hopes of a redundancy payout.

Now though, the Bauer family has left the building. The company is now in the hands of private equity firm Mercury Capital.

The sale was completed on Friday. And the first priority for the new owners was to do the humane thing and put the stood down staff out of their misery. I wonder how much the Bauers saved on the redundancy payments.

Soon the company once known as Australian Consolidated Press, then ACP Magazines, before it absorbed Emap Australia and Pacific Magazines along the way, will change its name once more.

It’s the end of a disastrous eight years which saw the Bauer family’s half a billion dollar purchase price incinerated – they got back less than a tenth of that when they sold to Mercury, and would have had several loss-making years along the way.

But this can’t be explained by bad timing. Bauer completed the purchase in September 2012, from close-to-bankruptcy Nine Entertainment Co.

By then the worst of the GFC was over. Bauer should have known what it was getting into – all the trends for the magazine industry were already in place.

The Hamburg-based company, led by Yvonne Bauer, seemed to assume it could replicate the business models that worked so well in making it a powerhouse in Europe. This included strong reader revenues and cheap, repurposable content.

But they failed to take into account the Australian magazine market’s heavier reliance on advertising dollars rather than reader revenue.

The signals of weakness from magazines were everywhere.

Bauer was a key player in the coordinated withdrawal by publishers from the Audited Media Association of Australia in 2016. Hating the quarterly trade press headlines about declining circulations, the magazine players seemed to figure that no coverage would be better than negative coverage.

It was a nuclear strike against transparency. So the medium disappeared even further from advertisers’ sights. The lack of bad news didn’t stop the agencies turning away from magazines – they simply forgot they were there.

And along the way, Bauer kept on closing titles. The list of mastheads they closed over the last eight years is longer than the list of those still open. Eight in a day is still some kind of record though.

Often, being owned by private equity can spell bad news for staff. The model can be to strip out costs, artificially drive up profits and exit on a higher multiple in four or five years.

That won’t work for Mercury. There’s little fat left to cut. They’ll need to nurture the company instead.

And it helps that they paid so little for the asset. That means that once the company returns to profitability, there will be more dollars to invest in growth rather than repaying the original investment.

Soon, the company will have a new name. And it will still be Australia’s biggest magazine publisher.

And it owns some of the greatest media properties of all time. Australian Women’s Weekly, the jewel in the crown, still carries immense kudos. Luckily, brands are hard to kill.

Nonetheless, it’s a horrible time to be setting out on the journey. Advertising revenues were down for the sector by nearly 40% in April and 33% in June. Like the joke about the lost tourist looking for directions, if I were them, I wouldn’t start from here.

Nonetheless, it is a new start.


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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