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TravelGuides – Peter Dutton wins defamation case against refugee activist Shane Bazzi over tweet | Peter Dutton

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TravelGuides – Peter Dutton wins defamation case against refugee activist Shane Bazzi over tweet | Peter Dutton

Peter Dutton has won his defamation claim against the refugee activist Shane Bazzi over a tweet labelling him a “rape apologist”.

On Wednesday the federal court ruled in favour of the defence minister over the tweet he said had “deeply offended” him because it went beyond the “rough and tumble” of politics.

Justice Richard White said he intended to order damages of $35,000 for Dutton but would refuse Dutton’s bid for an injunction to prevent Bazzi tweeting about him.

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Although the decision vindicates Dutton’s reputation, the payout is relatively small and will allow Bazzi’s lawyers to argue for reduced costs.

Bazzi’s tweet, since deleted, said “Peter Dutton is a rape apologist”. It included a link to a 2019 Guardian Australia article reporting comments by Dutton that some female refugees were “trying it on” by making claims they had been raped, and needed to travel to Australia from offshore detention to receive abortions.

The tweet was published on the same day Dutton had said he didn’t know the “she said he said” details of Brittany Higgins’ allegation of rape.

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White found the tweet was defamatory and did convey the imputation that Dutton “excuses rape” although he found it did not convey that he “condones” rape.

The judge accepted “in a general way” that Dutton’s comments about the Higgins allegation may have prompted Bazzi’s tweet but said it was not part of his job to say whether the criticisms of Dutton were justified.

The judge rejected Bazzi’s submission the tweet should be understood to mean that Dutton “lacks empathy … towards women on Nauru who reported that they had been raped”, because the ordinary reasonable reader would not imbue the word “apologist … with some special meaning to be gleaned from the words in the link”.

Bazzi’s defence, filed in June, denied he had defamed Dutton but pleaded that, if he did, defences of fair comment and honest opinion should apply. The judge held that Bazzi had not established either defence.

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The judge accepted the statement was an expression of an opinion but said there was a “significant difference” between a court finding about Dutton’s duty of care to rape victims and the imputation that he excuses the act of rape itself.

Dutton had questioned the truth of women in refugee centre’s claims they had been raped – “a different subject matter than diminishing the significance of rape”, he said.

Nor did the “she said, he said” remark reveal “anything at all about [Dutton’s] attitude to rape”.

The judge found it was likely Bazzi “did not appreciate the effect of his words” and concluded he did not hold the opinion that Dutton is a rape apologist because he excuses rape.

On damages, the judge said the tweet did not have a wide readership and his impression was that Dutton experienced an “initial affront” but had not expressed “continuing distress”.

“There is no suggestion that the tweet has affected Mr Dutton in his day-to-day political or ministerial activities, or in his relationships with other people.”

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Dutton had sought aggravated damages citing more recent tweets and statements from Bazzi and his lawyers including that the “wealthy and powerful cabinet minister” should focus on his defence portfolio, not the defamation case.

White rejected Dutton’s claim that statements soliciting funds for Bazzi’s defence justified extra compensation.

“There is nothing wrong in persons seeking forms of crowd funding for a defence to defamation proceedings.

“It was not inappropriate for him to bring to public attention the issues concerning freedom of speech raised by Mr Dutton’s proceedings,” he said, as this was “a legitimate matter to be raised”.

The court will now consider submissions from the parties on the issue of costs at a further hearing on 8 December before formally making orders.

At the hearing in October, White had warned both sides about the failure to settle what he said was not “one of the largest or larger defamation cases the federal court has had”.

The judge noted even if Dutton won, Bazzi could seek reduced costs if Dutton were awarded damages of less than $100,000, or the proceeding could more suitably have been brought in another court or tribunal.

TravelGuides – Peter Dutton wins defamation case against refugee activist Shane Bazzi over tweet | Peter Dutton

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