Climate-sceptic academic seeks $1.5m in donations to fight unlawful dismissal appeal | Australia news

The climate-sceptic academic Peter Ridd has asked supporters to donate another $1.5m to fund ongoing legal costs after his former employer, James Cook University, lodged an appeal against an unlawful dismissal ruling.

This month the federal court awarded Ridd $1.2m in compensation. The court has made clear its finding related to Ridd’s employment rights and not his academic freedom.

After JCU lodged its appeal and most of the compensation payout was ordered to be quarantined in a trust account, Ridd relaunched a public fundraising site for his legal costs.

The site has collected more than $350,000 in total public donations, including about $100,000 in the past 24 hours.

In recent months Ridd has held a speaking tour, promoted by agricultural groups, that supported their campaign against new Great Barrier Reef pollution regulations. Ridd has personally promoted their cause and joined lobbying efforts.

In a statement soliciting donations, Ridd cites his position on the reef issue – which disputes the scientific consensus and has been compared with the strategy used by the tobacco industry to raise doubt about the impact of smoking – as a “point of principle we must fight for”.

“JCU will use its infinite financial resources – effectively government money – to appeal,” Ridd said.

He said donations would “send a powerful message to governments about what the public expect of our universities”.

The court last week put a stay on the compensation payout. JCU is required pay more than $1.2m into a trust administered by Ridd’s lawyer. Of that money $1m will be quarantined and $215,000 made available for Ridd’s legal costs.

In April federal circuit court judge Salvatore Vasta found the actions of the university, including Ridd’s repeated censure and ultimate dismissal, were unlawful.

Vasta made clear the case was about employment law and not – as Ridd, his supporters and conservative media outlets have repeatedly stated – about academic freedom.

“Some have thought that this trial was about freedom of speech and intellectual freedom,” Vasta said. “Media reports have considered that this trial was about silencing persons with controversial or unpopular views.

“Rather, this trial was purely and simply about the proper construction of a clause in an enterprise agreement.”

JCU’s appeal argues there are “errors of law” in the judgments.

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