Peter Dutton won a libel claim following a tweet calling him a “rape apologist” after a judge decided it was a step too far from the facts.
The defense minister on Wednesday received $ 35,000 in damages after suing refugee lawyer Shane Bazzi over a six-word tweet in February claiming the Queensland MP “is a rape apologist”.
The post deleted since contained a link to a 2019 news article quoting Mr Dutton as saying that some refugee women in Nauru who complained of rape were “trying” to come to Australia.
Mr Bazzi, through lawyer Richard Potter SC, told the court that he was expressing his honest and fact-based opinion.
But the Federal Court determined that the tweet went beyond the facts of the article, which concerned Mr Dutton’s questioning of the good faith of the women’s allegations.
“This is a different subject than diminishing the importance of rape, or not treating it seriously when it occurs, or any action that involves excusing the rape,” the judge said. Richard White in written reasons.
“Mr. Bazzi was not making any blunt, exaggerated or damaging comment based on the material, but again made a different claim, regarding Mr. Dutton’s attitude or conduct in relation to the actual act of rape.”
He said that a rational relationship must exist between Mr. Dutton’s statements, on the one hand, and the view that Mr. Dutton excuses rape himself when it occurs, or that he is a an apologist for rape more generally, on the other hand.
“That relationship is lacking,” the judge said.
The same was true of the relationship between the tweet and the comments Mr. Dutton made a few hours before the tweet.
The Dickson MP has been criticized for referring to “he said, she said” details of the rape complaint of former Coalition staff member Brittany Higgins.
“In none of the statements Mr. Bazzi relies on has Mr. Dutton said anything about his attitude towards the rape,” Justice White said.
A defense of fair comment on a matter of public interest has also failed.
“We are very disappointed with the result. We will take the time to consider our options,” Bazzi said, thanking supporters and asking for privacy.
The Minister’s claims for aggravated damages and an injunction, based on Mr. Bazzi’s comments on the case, were dismissed.
When calculating damages, the judge said it was understandable that Mr Dutton had been hurt and offended when he was used to wearing “the slings and arrows” that come with high political office.
But “a sense of perspective” was needed on the seriousness of the defamation, he said.
The tweet, posted around midnight and receiving approximately 1,220 “impressions” on Twitter, was not published in any mainstream media and was deleted shortly after Mr Bazzi received Mr Dutton’s attorney.
“Ordinary reasonable readers of the Tweet would not have understood that this was the measured assessment of a serious political commentator,” Justice White said.
Costs and interest will be decided at a later date.
Mr Dutton, a father of three and a former police officer, told court in October he was “deeply offended” by the tweet because it was the opposite of who he was.
The case is the latest defamation complaint filed by a Member of Parliament over social media posts.
Andrew Laming took action on tweets from various personalities, including ABC’s Louise Milligan, after a Nine News report on a photo taken by the Queensland LNP.
In September 2020, first-term Member of Parliament Anne Webster, her husband and their charity received a total of $ 875,000 for “shameful and inexplicable” claims made by a conspiracy theorist.
Associated Australian Press