Gay refugee activist Shane Bazzi on Tuesday won his appeal in a defamation case brought against him by Peter Dutton, over a now deleted tweet that labelled Australia’s Defence Minister a “rape apologist”.
A federal court has last year ruled that Bazzi had defamed Dutton and ordered the activist to pay legal costs of $35,000 to the minister. A full bench of three Federal court judges on Tuesday struck down that decision and ruled that the activist’s tweet did not convey the impression that Dutton excuses rape.
Bazzi, was a prominent voice during the 2017 national Marriage equality vote. Kurdish-Iranian journalist and former refugee at Manus, Behrouz Boochani said that Bazzi was “a dedicated human rights activist that many of us know for his support of refugees on Manus Island and Nauru”.
In a post on social media before the judgement was handed down, Bazzi said that the “legal battle has taken a tremendous toll on my life.”
Dutton’s Rape Comments Sparked Backlash
In 2021, Brittany Higgins had alleged that she was raped by a fellow Liberal staffer in the then-defence minister Linda Reynolds’ office. In his response to the news in February 2021, Dutton had claimed that he was not aware of the “she said, he said details of the allegations”.
The comments sparked 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. In a tweet that was subsequently deleted, 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.
A federal court ruled that the tweet was defamatory and said that Dutton “found this statement of Mr Bazzi offensive and hurtful”.
Dutton Fails In Court
The full bench however did not agree with this conclusion. “The tweet no doubt conveys an impression that is derogatory and critical of Mr Dutton’s attitude to rape or rape allegations, but it does not go so far as to convey the impression that Mr Dutton is a person who excuses rape,” the full bench said, adding that the “primary judge erred in finding that Mr Bazzi’s tweet conveyed the defamatory imputation that Mr Dutton excuses rape.”
Bazzi’s lawyers had argued that the tweet read as a whole along with The Guardian article would have found that the criticism was directed at Dutton statement claiming that women making allegations of rape to enter Australia.
“It is not sufficient that the tweet was offensive and derogatory. Mr Dutton had the onus to establish, on the balance of probabilities, that the reader reasonably would have understood that the tweet conveyed the imputation that he asserted it conveyed,” the full bench said. “In our opinion, he (Dutton) failed to discharge that onus so that the appeal must be allowed, the judgment entered for Mr Dutton in the sum of $35,825 must be set aside and the proceeding dismissed.”