Refugee Activist Appeals Dutton’s $35,000 Defamation Case Victory

By Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng
December 20, 2021 Updated: December 21, 2021

Refugee activist Shane Bazzi will be appealing a court ruling that found he defamed then-Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton when he wrote the words: “Peter Dutton is a rape apologist” on Twitter.

The defamation victory for Dutton—current defence minister—saw Bazzi ordered to pay AU$35,000 and some legal costs.

The case centred on comments by Dutton featured in a 2019 news article, who said some refugee women at the Nauru Detention Centre complaining of rape allegations were “trying it on” so they could get to mainland Australia for an abortion.

Bazzi’s lawyers at the time tried to use the defence of fair comment on a matter of public interest, and opinion saying his Twitter post was based on fact. However, both failed.

The Federal Court Judge Richard White said there was “no doubt a serious defamation” and that it went beyond the facts of the article.

“It is understandable that, despite Mr. Dutton being accustomed to bearing ‘the slings and arrows’ which are an incident of high political office, he found this statement of Mr. Bazzi offensive and hurtful,” he wrote in his judgement.

“This is a different subject matter than diminishing the significance of rape, or not treating it seriously when it occurs, or any action which involves excusing rape.”

However, White said a “sense of perspective” was needed regarding the severity of the defamation, saying it was not published in any mainstream media and only published to the Twitter audience. Further, Bazzi did remove the post after receiving a letter from Dutton’s lawyers.

“Just because it involves a national figure doesn’t mean it’s a matter of national importance,” he added.

The level of awarded damages, around $35,000, fell short of the maximum of $432,500.

On Dec. 20, Bazzi’s lawyers, O’Brien Criminal and Civil Solicitors announced they would launch an appeal.

“Mr. Bazzi will be arguing that the judge erred in finding that Mr. Bazzi’s tweet carried the meaning found by the judge, namely that Mr. Dutton ‘excuses rape,’” according to a statement.

“The appeal will be held sometime in 2022.”

Dutton has vowed to take legal action against individuals using social media accounts to write “defamatory” comments against him.

“I’m going to start to pick out some of them to sue because we need to have … a respectful public debate,” he told 2GB in March.

“A lot of lazy journalists pick up these tweets and believe that they’re representative of the larger community view when they’re not.”

He took action against Greens Senator Larissa Waters in March, who also accusing Dutton of being a “rape apologist.”

Waters later issued a public apology and retracted her comments.