Peter Dutton to seek aggravated damages in defamation claim against Shane Bazzi


Peter Dutton will seek aggravated damages in his defamation claim against refugee activist Shane Bazzi following recent tweets suggesting the “wealthy and powerful cabinet minister” should focus on his defence portfolio, not the defamation case.

Dutton filed an amended statement of claim in his defamation suit on Thursday, ahead of a full hearing next month in which the defence minister will be the sole witness.

Dutton is suing Bazzi over a tweet labelling him a “rape apologist”, making good on his threats to pursue social media users for allegedly false and defamatory statements.

Bazzi has deleted the tweet but is defending the case after Dutton decided to pursue him for an apology and damages. Bazzi’s defence, filed in June, denies he has defamed Dutton, but pleads that, if he did, defences of fair comment and honest opinion should apply.

Bazzi’s lawyers, O’Brien Criminal and Civil Solicitors, have said Bazzi’s case has important implications for free speech and argue that he had “expressed an honest opinion on Twitter” that was “based on a number of publicly reported statements that had been attributed to Mr Dutton”.

In the amended statement of claim, seen by Guardian Australia, Dutton complained that Bazzi had deleted the tweet on 9 April, more than two weeks after the Greens senator Larissa Waters apologised on 24 March for a similar comment by saying she had “no basis” to allege Dutton was a rape apologist.

Dutton also sought aggravated damages on the basis of two tweets sent in late August, including one on 20 August, the morning of court-ordered mediation.

In that tweet, Bazzi said “a wealthy & powerful cabinet minister, is suing me, an impoverished unemployed refugee activist, for defamation over a six word tweet which I deleted in April”.

Dutton also points to a tweet published three days later, in which Bazzi suggested that journalists should ask the prime minister, Scott Morrison, at a press conference about evacuations from Afghanistan, “if he thinks it’s appropriate that his defence minister spent Friday morning in mediation with me over a six word deleted tweet”.

“Could his time have been better spent focussing on getting people out of Afghanistan rather than pursuing me?”

Bazzi’s defence argues that the tweet that sparked the defamation case amounted to an honest opinion based on public statements by Dutton.

Bazzi’s tweet included a link to a June 2019 Guardian Australia article reporting comments the then home affairs minister had made on Sky News alleging women had been “trying it on” in claiming they were raped and needed an abortion as part of a ploy to get to Australia for medical treatment from refugee centres on Nauru.

In amended reply submissions, Dutton argues that his public comments, including those referenced in the Guardian article, could not possibly justify the conclusion he is a “rape apologist”.

He argued it “could not be assumed that all of the persons who might see” the tweet were familiar with the linked material.

Dutton has also accused Bazzi of showing malice, citing a tweet labelling him a “cunt” and a “fucken scumbag”.

In August, Bazzi’s lawyers said they would “continue to strongly defend” free speech.

“While there must be some limits to that freedom, 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,” they said in a statement.

Guardian Australia contacted Dutton for comment.





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