Flat White

If a cabinet minister can pay his legals why not ABC journalists?

8 October 2021

3:24 PM

8 October 2021

3:24 PM

In the national capital the most-used greeting is usually not “How are you?” but “What have you heard?”

Canberra is in lockdown but that hasn’t stopped chatter from bureaucratic bunkers about a truly remarkable event,  a possible first in the annals of Australian political history.

A Cabinet Minister is paying his own legal fees in a defamation case, confirming that he alone, not taxpayers, will fund his case in the Federal Court.

Defence Minister Peter Dutton brought the case against refugee activist Shane Bazzi in response to Bazzi’s now-deleted tweet describing the Minister as a ‘rape apologist’ earlier this year, a charge the Minister told the court, in a virtual appearance, was “horribly offensive” and that “this [tweet]  went against who I am and my beliefs”, compelling him to proceed with defamation action.

Dutton confirmed to reporters that he is the sole contributor to his continued legal battle, after.several days of hearings,  and that his legal costs would amount to thousands of dollars.

Canberrans with long memories ( which most, usefully, do have,) remember that former Labor speaker (“Leaping”) Leo McLeay tapped the Commonwealth for costs in when he allegedly injured himself on a folding bike from the Parliament House gym.

Federal public servant Michaela Banerji lost her High Court case against the government when it was found that tweets she had made under the nom-de-plume La Legale, criticising her employer, the former Department of Immigration and Border Protection. 

The Australian Public Service guidelines stipulate ‘an APS employee must take.reasonable steps to avoid any conflict ( real or apparent) in connected with the employee’s APS employment’ and ’employees ‘must uphold the integrity and good reputation of the employee’s agency and the APS.’

The.Banerji case clearly set out that public servants — ie taxpayer-funded employees — would not be protected from online posts or allegations made in the public arena. Is the case different for a journalist employed by the national broadcaster whose considerable legal bills are paid by the ABC but eventually the bill is handed to the taxpayer. This has been seen in the recent defamation proceedings against the ABC brought by former Attorney-General Christian Porter. The journalist behind that story was the beneficiary of her employer’s largesse, courtesy of Australian taxpayers. 

Peter Dutton, a former Queensland cop,  made a tough but many would say honourable decision (Shane Bazzi’s defence was crowdfunded with much support from NSW Green MP David Shoebridge, garnering according to reports, above the $150, 000 target.

ABC’s charter mandates free unbiased reporting. 

Perhaps now’s the time for an addendum that ABC journalists who incur legal costs should seek crowdfunding, not rely on hard-pressed taxpayers.

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