News & Current Affairs
22 October 2014
Barry Spurr takes legal action to compel New Matilda to reveal source of emails
Sydney University professor of poetry seeking injunction to destroy emails referring to ‘Abos’, ‘mussies’ and ‘chinky poos’
University of Sydney students rally outside Professor Barry Spurr's office calling for his sacking.
Independent news website New Matilda is being taken to court in an attempt to compel it to reveal the sources behind a story that saw racist emails sent over two years by a University of Sydney professor published online.
Barry Spurr, the chair in poetry at Sydney University, was suspended from his post after emails he had sent friends and colleagues over the past two years revealed him referring to the prime minister as an “Abo lover”, describing other people as “mussies” and “chinky poos” and mocking the Australian of the year, Adam Goodes.
New Matilda originally posted extracts from the emails, and then also published transcripts of some of the emails, under the headline “THE TRANSCRIPTS: The Partial Works Of Professor Barry Spurr. Poet, Racist, Misogynist”.
Spurr’s lawyers succeeded in getting an injunction on Tuesday to prevent New Matilda publishing any further material from the leaked emails.
The site’s editor and owner, Chris Graham, said he was forced to represent himself at the federal court after being given an hour’s notice of the hearing and unable to get legal representation in time.
New Matilda’s counsel, Geoff Holland, earlier told Guardian Australia that Spurr was seeking a temporary injunction to have the emails pulled from the site and then, at another hearing on on Thursday, would seek an injunction to have the emails destroyed and New Matilda to reveal its source for the emails.
“They have moved quickly,” Holland said. “The injunction is an attempt to destroy any and all emails received by New Matilda and they are trying to get a court order to reveal the source.”
Graham said Thursday’s would be the larger battle over the source of the emails.
“I understand why professor Spurr, and anyone in his situation, would want the information but clearly public interest should prevail and we will defend it no matter what,” he said.”
Spurr’s lawyers are attempting to argue a breach of confidence and breach of privacy.
Spurr demanded the emails be taken off the website by 10am on Tuesday, a request which Graham, rejected.
Spurr’s lawyer, John Laxon of the firm LaxonLex Lawyers, did not reply to requests for comment.
Sydney University has launched two investigations into the emails, one into whether their email system was hacked, and another into the content of Spurr’s emails and whether they violated the university’s guidelines.
Graham said in an interview withthe Sydney Morning Herald: “How many so-called ‘Mussies’, ‘chinky-poos’ and ‘Abos’ are on their campus? There are Muslims, Asians and Aboriginal people … and the university owes it to them to assure them that its senior ranks are not populated by people who have a thinly veiled disdain for them.”
Spurr initially defended the emails as a “whimsical” word game which mocked the extreme language used.
He was the special consultant on the government’s curriculum review for the English curriculum and recommended more of an emphasis on western literature, saying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture had not had much of an impact on Australian literature.
Comedian, Barry Humphries, apparently defended Spurr in a letter to the Australian on Tuesday, saying Australia was in danger of losing its sense of humour.