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Ousted boss of Judith Neilson Institute seeks legal advice over dismissal

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The ousted boss of Judith Neilson’s embattled journalism institute has obtained legal advice about suing the organisation over his dismissal as executive director.

Mark Ryan, a former adviser to Paul Keating and long-time adviser to the Lowy family, led the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas since its inception, and was working with lawyers to negotiate his exit after Neilson requested his removal.

Billionaire Judith Neilson and the executive director of her journalism institute, Mark Ryan, have parted ways.Credit:James Brickwood/Judith Neilson Institute

In an email sent to JNI’s international advisory council early last week, seen by this masthead, Ryan says he still has not been provided with reasons for his removal.

“It’s been a very disappointing episode to say the least, made more so by the fact that no coherent rationale has been provided for what was a totally unnecessary disruption to the Institute and its hard-working staff,” Ryan said in an email last Tuesday.

“I’m advised by Australia’s pre-eminent employment law firm Clayton Utz that I have strong grounds to pursue an adverse action claim and am reserving my rights in that regard.”

Ryan did not respond to requests for comment for this article. His exit came more than two months after the Institute’s four independent directors received a letter from Neilson outlining plans to remove him from his position, and appoint her daughter Beau Neilson and lawyer Daniel Appleby as directors.

The letter, which Neilson conceded may have surprised the board, backpedalled on long-term plans for a coveted international prize for ideas, which was about to be announced and was initially her idea.

It led to the departure of its independent directors – former NSW Justice Jim Spigelman, Free TV chief executive Bridget Fair, former Victoria State Library CEO and current boss of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Foundation Kate Torney, and The Australian’s editor-at-large Paul Kelly – who were concerned about the independence of the organisation.

For their part, sources close to the institute said staff members have clarity on Neilson’s new vision and have not raised issues internally.

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