Peter Dutton’s defamation proceedings ‘cause for real concern’

Peter Dutton’s defamation proceedings ‘cause for real concern’

28 April 2021 By Naomi Neilson
Peter Dutton

As part of the ongoing fallout from Parliament House’s recent onslaught of sexual harassment and assault allegations, federal Defence Minister Peter Dutton has launched defamation proceedings against a refugee advocate who took aim at “he said, she said” comments made by the minister after the Brittany Higgins’ reveal.

Lawyers for advocate Shane Bazzi have indicated that they will “vigorously defend” their client for his “honest” opinion that Peter Dutton is a “rape apologist” following a number of publicly reported statements attributed to the minister. The firm said these comments would have “undoubtedly provoked a number of different opinions”. 

Amid the controversy surrounding Brittany Higgins’ allegations that she was raped in then-defence minister Linda Reynolds’ office by a fellow Liberal staffer, Mr Dutton was quoted saying that he was not aware of the “she said, he said details”. 

His comments spurred social media commentary condemning him, including from political opponents and advocates like Mr Bazzi. As part of his February 2021 tweet, Mr Bazzi included a link to a 2019 Guardian Australia article in which Mr Dutton was reported as alleging that women had been “trying it on” when they claimed they were raped and needed an abortion as part of a “ploy” to get to Australia from Nauru. 

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In the 2019 article, Mr Dutton alleged that these women then opted out of the procedure once they arrived in Australia, inciting more criticisms at the time: “They have the baby here and the moment they step off the plane their lawyers lodge papers in the federal court which injuncts us from sending them back.” 

Mr Bazzi’s firm O'Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors said that a “robust and vibrant” democracy should cultivate and encourage a diverse array of expressions of opinion. 

“We believe that the decision of Mr Dutton to sue Mr Bazzi for having this opinion raises genuine concerns about freedom of speech in Australia. Freedom of speech is a value that our firm will strongly defend,” O'Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors said in a statement, adding that while there will be limits to freedom of speech, they will always defend the rights of people to hold opinions, “especially against politicians”. 

The firm added that a politician using the defamation law to “stifle” the expression of public opinion is “a cause for real concern”. 

In a statement of claim obtained by media, Mr Dutton is seeking aggravated damages over allegations that Mr Bazzi had “knowledge of the falsity” of the tweet and had opted to use “extravagant language”. He also referred to an apology he received from Greens’ senator Larissa Waters after she also alleged he was a “rape apologist” and that he has sought to conceal or dismiss reports of rape in the past.

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In addition to the damages, Mr Dutton is also seeking for Mr Bazzi to be permanently restrained from publishing similar comments or containing similar imputations. 

Fellow federal minister Christian Porter is in the midst of his own defamation proceedings against the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and journalist Louise Milligan for an article that he alleged identified him as the minister accused of a historic rape. He strenuously denied the allegations in early March. 

Peter Dutton’s defamation proceedings ‘cause for real concern’
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