Joe Hockey must have bumped his head. We can't think of any
other reason why, as a Federal politician, he'd want to go
around suing the media for defamation. The Federal Treasurer has
sued Fairfax over articles suggesting that he accepted payments in
return for his attention or support. The headline was
'treasurer for sale'.
It seems outrageous that politicians, those perennial
mudslingers, could occupy the judicial system when they cop a nasty
news headline, especially when most of the trashy crap you read in
papers comes directly from their mouths. Logically, you'd think
that they should check their personal rights at the door when they
sign up for the job.
Well logic doesn't write the law, and politicians can bring
claims for defamation. But there are some good reasons that you
don't see more of them.
The first reason is that there is a strong defence to claims for
defamation that relate to political matters. The gist is that the
law of defamation shouldn't inhibit the democratic process,
which includes our right to call a politician a goose. The defence
will only fail if the statements were made maliciously, or with a
reckless disregard for the truth.
Speaking of truth, that's another reason that more
politicians don't bring defamation claims. Truth is a complete
defence. And by running that defence, the publisher gets an
opportunity to dredge up all the politician's dirty secrets in
the public forum of the courts. If we have learned one thing from
ICAC it's that a lot of politicians have a lot of dirty
Maybe Joe Hockey thinks that Fairfax's claims are too
damaging to let them slip by. It's a dangerous game he's
playing though. Not only are there strong defences available, the
case gives Fairfax a chance to lead evidence on why it says it got
the story right, possibly gives it the chance to cross-examine
Hockey (fun!), and the claim itself continues to make headlines and
remind everyone that Hockey was accused of being 'for sale'
in the first place. If you ask us, it's a lose-lose.
We do not disclaim anything about this article. We're
quite proud of it really.
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This was an interlocutory decision about the appointment of a tutor for the child appellant, to carry on his proceedings.
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