A gay activist has been hit with nearly $82,000 in legal costs after a failed court bid against a former Victorian political candidate who compared gays to paedophiles.
Tess Corbett, an unsuccessful Katter’s Australia Party candidate for the Victorian seat of Wannon, publicly said in 2013 that she did not want “gays, lesbians or paedophiles working in my kindergarten”.
“Pedophiles will be next in line to be recognised in the same way as gays and lesbians, and get rights,” Corbett told the Hamilton Spectator, sparking outrage across the country.
In response to Corbett’s comments, Sydney anti-discrimination campaigner Garry Burns filed a complaint with the President of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act Board (ADB), alleging that the comments breached the anti-vilification provisions of the state’s Anti-Discrimination Act, as they were widely disseminated and broadcast in NSW.
The case was referred to Tribunal (NCAT) which substantiated Burns’ application, and Corbett was found guilty of vilifying homosexuals in a hearing at the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal in October 2013.
The tribunal made orders for Corbett to apologise in writing to Burns and publish an apology to the gay community in The Sydney Morning Herald. However, Corbett did not comply.
Burns then unsuccessfully started proceedings in the NSW Supreme Court, to get Ms Corbett to comply with the orders. The matter subsequently went to the High Court of Australia, which dismissed the appeal in April last year.
A separate matter, in which conservative campaigner Bernard Gaynor allegedly allowed derogatory third party comments about Burns to be published on his Facebook page, was conjoined to the Corbett matter in the High Court.
A bankruptcy notice was served from Corbett’s solicitor to Burns on Thursday, giving Burns 21 days to pay $48,926.74, otherwise he will be deemed to have committed an act of bankruptcy. Costs in the Gaynor proceedings, meanwhile, are $32,718.03, with costs for both matters amounting to a total of $81,644.77.
Burns is now appealing to community to help him meet the crippling costs.
“If 82,000 people donated $1, I could easily raise the funds required to pay those costs. I don’t want to be left destitute because I stood up in defence of homosexuals and fought the good fight all the way to the High Court of Australia,” Burns said in a press release issued on Thursday.
Burns has sought an ex-gratia payment from the NSW Department of Communities and Justice to cover the costs, but that has been refused.
“After careful consideration of your application … my preliminary view [is] that the circumstances do not give rise to an ex-gratia payment,” read a letter from the General Counsel for Communities and Justice to Burns.
Burns said the denial of an ex-gratia payment over the matter, which he believes is in the public interest, has left him in dire straits.
“I initiated the legal proceedings against Ms Corbett in the public interest and not for any personal monetary gain, to protect homosexuals from public acts of unlawful homosexuality vilification under the ADA 1977 and now I find myself in this dire position,” he said.
Burns now set up a GoFundMe page asking community members and allies to donate what they can, so he can pay the High Court costs ordered against him.
“I am not only asking LGBTI Australians to help but all those Australians who support a fair and decent Australian in 2019 to donate what they can,” he said.
“Thank you for any help you can give.”
Burns is best known for successfully testing the homosexual vilification provisions of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 against public broadcaster John Laws and Sydney radio station 2UE in 2002.
Burns also made headlines last year for his 2018 battle in the NSW Local Court against convicted stalker and failed Gold Coast mayoral candidate, John Murray Abbott.
Burns’ complaint that Abbott breached section 49ZT of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 was substantiated, and Abbott was ordered to pay damages and publish an apology online.
This new High Court legal debt now threatens Burns’ ability to continue his court-based activism for the LGBTIQ community.
Burns’ GoFundMe page can be found online at gofundme.com/f/help-garry-burns-meet-high-court-legal-costs.