Defence Minister and real big tough guy Peter Dutton has filed a defamation lawsuit in Federal Court against an unemployed refugee activist over a single tweet, in a grossly egregious example of the power imbalance that exists in Australia’s defamation laws.
Dutton is suing Shane Bazzi, a widely respected advocate for refugees and asylum seekers, over one tweet posted in February of this year where Bazzi labelled Dutton a “rape apologist.”
The tweet in question included a link to a Guardian Australia article, which printed direct quotes Dutton made in a 2019 Sky News appearance. In that interview, Dutton stated that some women being held in detention centres on Nauru “have claimed that they’ve been raped and came to Australia to seek an abortion because they couldn’t get an abortion on Nauru,” and that they were “trying it on” in a bid to secure medical transfer to Australia.
Bazzi posted the tweet in question in the middle of the fallout of the Federal Government’s handling of Brittany Higgins rape allegations.
In court filings made on Friday, representatives for Dutton claim that the single, lone tweet contains four defamatory imputations, including the imputation that Dutton “condones and excuses rape.”
Dutton is seeking damages, aggravated damages, and costs through the case. Representatives for Bazzi have asserted the lawsuit will be “vigorously” defended.
Peter Dutton has made a point of singling out individual social media users for defamation proceedings in recent times, explicitly telling Ray Hadley on 2GB in March that he was “going to start to pick out some of them [social media users] to sue, because we need to have “a respectful public debate,” apparently.
Greens Senator Larissa Waters issued a public apology on Twitter over a similar matter involving Dutton, asserting in a very legal fashion that she “[accepts] that there was no basis for those allegations and that they were false.”
“Apology to Peter Dutton On 25 February 2021 I published a media release on my website, posted on my Twitter account, and made in the course of a press conference false and defamatory statements that Peter Dutton is a rape apologist, that he has sought to conceal and dismiss 1/2— Larissa Waters (@larissawaters) March 24, 2021
reports of rape, and that he has no sympathy for victims of rape. I accept that there was no basis for those allegations and that they were false. I unreservedly apologise to Minister Dutton for the hurt, distress and damage to his reputation I have caused him." 2/2— Larissa Waters (@larissawaters) March 24, 2021
Not for nothing, but Peter Dutton in 2019 also very clearly asserted that “in a democracy like ours, we encourage freedom of speech, freedom of expression [and] thought.”
‘Course he also suggested that welfare recipients who exercised freedom of expression through attending climate protests should have their benefits revoked.
And he also told a conglomerate of 30 business leaders who wrote to then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in support of same sex-marriage that they should “stick to their knitting.”
And then there was that one time he tried to use his Government flex to have a photo of himself erased from Twitter because he didn’t like how he looked in it.
So, y’know, defamation and freedom of speech are complicated concepts, apparently.