Thursday, February 11, 2021

Peter Ridd case to go to High Court

He dared to say that Greenie scare stories about the barrier reef were not well founded in the facts

A former James Cook University professor fired over his comments about his colleagues’ climate change findings will have his case heard in The High Court.

Academic Dr Peter Ridd was speaking “hard truths” but should have been protected from being sacked by his contract, the High Court heard as it granted his case special leave to be heard.

Dr Ridd was fired from James Cook University in 2018 for making disrespectful comments about his colleagues when he claimed their findings on climate change could not be trusted as they were too “emotionally involved”, breaching the university’s code of conduct.

The case, which has become a flash point for freedom of speech and intellectual freedom, will be heard by the High Court later this year after it agreed on Thursday to hear the case.

Counsel for Dr Ridd, Stuart Wood QC, said his client’s enterprise agreement granted protection from the code of conduct’s requirement for respectful and courteous behaviour towards colleagues, as well as not bringing the university into disrepute.

“It’s freedom... for academics to go about their work which involves the robust exchange of ideas and to be... protected from the university,” he said.

“One of the provisions (of the code of conduct)... an academic must be respectful and courteous to other members of staff, that obligation cuts across section 14 (of the enterprise agreement).”

Mr Wood said as long as his client did not “harass, bully, vilify or intimidate” his colleagues, his intelligence and academic freedom was protected by the enterprise agreement.

He said it was agreed his client had breached the code of conduct by his “extremely disrespectful” comments about his colleagues, but that the enterprise agreement protected him from disciplinary action when he was speaking within his field of expertise.

“The purpose of the clause... is to allow academics to robustly exchange ideas without being censured. That purpose was ignored,” he said. “Section 14 (means) you can speak hard truths as long as you don’t harass, bully, vilify or intimidate.

“The court should be very troubled by the facts of this case. The commitment from the university to protect the academic freedom was resiled from and Dr Ridd was punished for doing what he should be doing.”

Dr Ridd said he was not surprised, but still relieved by the court’s decision. He said the case would determine the future of academic freedom in Australia. “If we go down... essentially academic freedom doesn’t effectively exist,” he said.

“Academics will always be wondering, actually, can I really say that. They will just zip up. “If universities are not there to have robust debate, then what the hell are they there for?”

Dr Ridd said there were times when intellectual freedom and respectful debate could not occur side-by-side because respect was a broad term. “It can mean from bare tolerance to almost adulation,” he said.

Acting for JCU, Brett Walker SC said the code of conduct and enterprise agreement should be read together, allowing intellectual freedom while treating colleagues with respect.

“It’s a long bow indeed that facts don’t support... that suggests behaving with respect for others is in incongruence to the exercise of intellectual freedom,” Mr Walker said.

“If you assume in your interpretation that intellectual freedom includes freedom from all modes of complying with norms of conduct, such as respect, courtesy, lack of abuse, we have a detraction in the code of conduct.”

Mr Walker said the code of conduct was not simply a tool of the university, but its existence was required by law, though the Public Sector Ethics Act.

He said there was no disagreement between the parties that Dr Ridd breached the code of conduct and if it was found the code and enterprise agreement could be read together then Dr Ridd had “no right of complaint”.

The case will be heard at a date to be set.

The Institute of Public Affairs welcomed the historic judgement.

“This will be the most significant test case for academic freedom in a generation to be settled by the highest court in the land,” IPA director of policy at the IPA Gideon Rozner said.

“Today’s decision continues the David vs Goliath battle on the fundamental issue of freedom of speech, against a university administration backed by millions of taxpayer dollars.”

A 2019 court decision found Dr Ridd had been unfairly dismissed and awarded him $1.2 million in compensation. However JCU won an appeal in the Federal Court last July.


Andrew Bolt: ABC proves it’s blind to the facts

Who can you still trust to tell the truth about saving yourself from the coronavirus? Not Paul Barry, host of Media Watch on the taxpayer-funded ABC.

On Monday, Barry gave a stunning example of how malice and bias blinds our Leftist national broadcaster even to facts that could save your life.

He joined the bizarre media pack-attack on Liberal MP Craig Kelly, and also criticised Sky News.

Thundered Barry: “Sky has regularly given Kelly airtime to tout unproven treatments he claims can beat COVID-19 — the head lice drug ivermectin and the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine.”

Bad Sky! Hadn’t Australia’s COVID-19 taskforce banned hydroxychloroquine, and recommended against ivermectin? So how dare we on Sky let Kelly point out that dozens of studies suggest these drugs do help stop people getting sick, when used early, before the virus gets to the lungs, and when used with zinc.

Barry fumed: “Andrew Bolt allowed him to rubbish the work of Australia’s COVID-19 taskforce.” Kelly told me it had looked at less than 10 per cent of the evidence on hydroxychloroquine.

Barry should have checked if that was true. And whether the taskforce relied on studies where the drug was given too late, or in an overdose.

Instead, he found an academic who’d already trashed Kelly, claiming, “we know for sure that hydroxychloroquine doesn’t work”. As for ivermectin, “there’s no evidence that it works”.

What! We “know” hydroxychloroquine doesn’t work? False. Just last month, the American Journal of Medicine published a paper saying it did.

There’s “no evidence” ivermectin works? False again. Just last Friday, the technical lead of the World Health Organisation’s fight against the virus confirmed what Kelly has said — but what Barry damned as dangerous “misinformation”. She said 11 studies showed “promising” results for ivermectin, and 56 more were coming.

In fact, even the COVID-19 taskforce last week quietly admitted it would now examine five new studies on ivermectin, which it failed to admit all suggested the drug worked. As Kelly said.

And on the day Barry attacked Kelly, the Herald Sun reported senior doctors had “called on Australia’s COVID-19 task force to consider letting doctors prescribe both hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin as a cure against coronavirus”.

So experts believe these drugs may work, but journalists like Barry still savage any conservative who dares tell you. Facts are dead. People, too.


Australian expert claims coronavirus likely started in China following WHO investigation

An Australian virus expert who recently travelled to China to investigate the coronavirus pandemic is convinced it originated there.

NSW Health infectious diseases expert Professor Dominic Dwyer was part of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) 14-strong virus investigation team which visited Wuhan for two weeks to study the outbreak’s source.

While the investigation did not definitively declare China as the source, Prof Dwyer, who is now in quarantine following his return to Australia, told Nine he believed COVID-19 “started in China”.

“I think the evidence for it starting elsewhere in the world is actually very limited. There is some evidence but it’s not really very good,” he said.

The WHO team visited a number of placed linked to the initial outbreak, including the Huanan Seafood Market, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Hubei Province Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Hubei Provincial Hospital.

Prof Dwyer also added bats were the “most likely” source of the virus but that it had been active in the community for “weeks’ before the outbreak connected to the wet market in late 2019.

It comes as NSW Health researchers uncovered a virus breakthrough which will help authorities across the globe contain coronavirus outbreaks faster, after experts from NSW Health Pathology successfully grew the live virus from NSW patients.

“Early and accurate diagnosis of infectious and deadly viruses is critical because undiagnosed patients can unknowingly transmit it to others,” Health Minister Brad Hazzard said following the announcement.

“But unless clinicians understand the epidemiology of the disease – how it behaves and replicates – they can’t develop reliable diagnostic testing to identify and contain it.

“A team of elite NSW researchers have achieved this by undertaking genome sequencing of the virus and growing the live virus from real patients as opposed to using synthetic materials.”

Prof Dwyer, who is NSW Health Pathology’s director of Public Health Pathology, said the discovery would save lives.

“This cutting-edge work will expand access to faster, reliable diagnostic testing for infected patients, not just here in NSW but around the world,” Prof Dwyer said.

“Being able to cultivate the novel coronavirus with samples from NSW patients as opposed to trying to mimic it from synthetic specimens is a terrific breakthrough.

“Synthetic virus tools don’t offer the same high degree of diagnostic accuracy needed to help us develop effective antiviral drugs that can be used to treat infected patients,” he said.

“We’re proud to be able to share our discovery with the World Health Organisation, and international researchers and clinicians, so together we ultimately help save lives.”

It is almost a year since WHO officially declared coronavirus a pandemic. It has so far infected 107 million people around the world and killed 2.35 million.


No law to set target: Ministers stare down Nats’ complaint on carbon

Federal ministers are planning to neutralise a backbench threat on climate change by making sure a new carbon target will not be mandated by law, avoiding a vote in Parliament that could rock the government.

The Morrison government is aiming to achieve the contentious target of net zero emissions by 2050 by pledging billions of dollars on energy projects without a mechanism that requires majority support from a divided backbench.

But the plan could undermine business confidence in the path to matching other advanced economies, with a top economist saying company chiefs would need the certainty that comes from a mandate set by law.

Australian National University Professor Warwick McKibbin said a binding emissions target was one of several critical policies required to achieve lower emissions with the least economic harm.

“If you don’t have a legislated target built into the system then the private sector won’t risk capital to hit the target,” said Professor McKibbin, a former Reserve Bank board member.

“You need a target at the core of policy, but it has to be measured over the long term as an average over time.”

Australian Industry Group principal adviser Tennant Reed said the organisation’s members overwhelmingly supported a clear 2050 net zero target.

“The more specific the government can be the better, and a net zero target by 2050 is something many, many of our members have said they are happy for us to advocate for,” he said.

United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres this week told member nations “the drive to net zero emissions must become the new normal for everyone, everywhere” and said the target had to be backed with credible plans to achieve it.

The warning came as three former Nationals ministers – Barnaby Joyce, Matt Canavan and Bridget McKenzie – warned they would reject a net zero target that imposed costs on rural Australia.

The moves put Prime Minister Scott Morrison on notice about the unrest within the Nationals over his declaration last week that the government would “preferably” set a target of net zero by 2050.

The government’s current stance is to reach the net zero goal sometime between 2050 and 2100, a position seen as inadequate by European leaders who argued against Mr Morrison speaking to a London climate summit in December.

Senator Canavan, a former resources minister, said he would vote against a net zero target for 2050 because it would cost too much to achieve. Senator McKenzie, a former sports minister, also warned against the target but acknowledged it might not come to a vote.

Mr Joyce, who was Nationals leader and deputy prime minister for two years, said he was willing to cross the floor on the issue.

But Environment Minister Sussan Ley played down the prospect of a vote in Parliament to put the target into law, the point at which Nationals might cross the floor.

“I don’t know that it’s a legislative issue,” Ms Ley told radio station 2GB. “I don’t know whether it’s appropriate for it to be legislated – if it is, it is, and we will work through that along the way.”

Others within the government said Mr Morrison did not intend to legislate the target and had already ruled out a scheme that imposed a burden on regional Australia, the issue that sparked the backbench concerns.

One of the key questions is whether to include farming in the target, but Ms Ley signalled on Tuesday the Nationals could not expect the sector to be totally exempt from policies to cut emissions.

“Agriculture needs to be at the table for the discussion,” she said, adding that many farmers were already reducing their emissions.

“They’re not on the back foot. They’re well and truly on the front foot,” she said.

The unrest within the Nationals’ backbench – no ministers joined the calls – sends another warning shot to party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack after complaints that he does not stand up for the Nationals against Mr Morrison.

Mr Guterres said net zero must be a focus for every country, company, city and financial institution, as well as key sectors such as aviation, shipping, industry and agriculture.

“The world remains way off target in staying within the 1.5-degree limit of the Paris Agreement,” he said.

“The global coalition for net zero emissions needs to grow, to cover more than 90 per cent of the emissions. This is a central objective for the United Nations this year.”

Mr Reed said it was a widely held view among Australian businesses that not only would the private sector be better able to plan and allocate resources with a clear target, so would federal government agencies such as the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Professor McKibbin also said a market mechanism, in the form of either a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme, would be required to give polluting industries the means and flexibility to switch to lower emissions systems and comply with the target.

“But a safety valve is required. You have an institution called a carbon bank that can issue permits to stop the costs of emissions rising above a threshold,” he said.

”The scheme has to have credible flexibility, like the way we run monetary policy where a carbon bank has a mandate to smooth costs and monitor what is happening in the economy and inform the market – so industry can change the way they generate or use energy.“




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