Defence Minister Peter Dutton won his defamation case against an unemployed gay refugee activist who had referred to him as a “rape apologist” on social media

A Federal Court indicated that it would order gay refugee activist Shane Bazzi to pay $35,000 as damages to Dutton. 

The minister had sued Bazzi over a tweet published on February 25, that said:  “Peter Dutton is a rape apologist.”

Bazzi, a prominent voice during the 2017 national Marriage equality vote, who is presently unemployed had raised over $157,000 through crowdfunding to fight the defamation case by Dutton. 

Disappointed With The Outcome

Following the verdict, Bazzi posted on Twitter: “We are very disappointed with the outcome. We will be taking time to consider our options. Thank you for all of your support and solidarity. I ask that you could please respect my privacy at this time.”

Earlier in the day, Bazzi had posted “whatever the outcome, I’m proud that I’ve stood by my principles”. 

Justice Richard White found that Bazzi’s tweet “did contain the imputation that Dutton excuses rape and it was defamatory of Dutton”, reported The Guardian.

Bazzi’s lawyers O’Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors had claimed that the activist had expressed an “honest opinion”. The judge did not agree. 

Scary Precedent

“I consider that the ordinary reasonable reader would have understood Mr Bazzi to be asserting that Mr Dutton was a person who excuses rape, and that the attached link provided support for that characterisation of him,” the judge said, adding, “Mr Bazzi has not established the statutory defence of honest opinion, or the common law defence of fair comment on a matter of public interest.”

The court however rejected Dutton’s claim that Bazzi had acted out of malice and dismissed an application to prevent the activist from making further comments. 

“This is a really scary precedent on public citizen’s right to criticise government ministers,” commented Sally Rugg, author and National Director of Australians for a Murdoch Royal Commission. 

‘Going To Start To Pick Out Some Of Them To Sue’

The case goes back to allegations  levelled by Brittany Higgins that she was raped by a fellow Liberal staffer in the then-defence minister Linda Reynolds’ office. 

In February 2021, responding to the news, Dutton had claimed that he was not aware of the “she said, he said details of the allegations”.

These comments led to a public backlash and on February 25, Bazzi shared a  Guardian article that had reported Dutton’s statement that women were using rape and abortion as a ploy to enter Australia. Bazzi posted “Peter Dutton is a rape apologist” along with the link of the article. 

Dutton, who had warned that he was “going to start to pick out some of them to sue” launched legal proceedings against Bazzi. 

The minister pointed to an apology offered by Greens senator Larissa Waters who had made a similar statement on social media. 

Bazzi took down the tweet. When mediation could not resolve the defamation proceedings, the case went to the federal court in October.

“Those who are elected to public office must expect to be subject to adverse opinions and society is entitled to expect a greater level of tolerance from such persons. For a politician to use the defamation law to stifle the expression of a public opinion is cause for real concern,” Bazzi’s lawyers O’Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors had said.

The court has scheduled the matter for hearing the parties over costs next month.

 

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