In the recent case of Dutton v Bazzi [2021] FCA 1474, the Federal Court considered a dispute between a political figure and a refugee advocate sparked by the publishing of a single tweet.

On 25 February 2021, refugee advocate Shane Bazzi made a post comprising of six words through social media platform, Twitter.

The tweet stated ‘Peter Dutton is a rape apologist’ and garnered thirteen re-tweets, over 1,000 views and approximately 150 interactions before it was deleted on or around 6 April 2021 following a demand by Mr Dutton’s legal representatives. Accompanying the statement was a link to an article published by the Guardian which references quotes by Mr Dutton in respect of refugee access and entry in Australia.

In particular, the article written by Helen Davidson, opens with the following statement: ‘Peter Dutton has said women have been “trying it on” in claiming they were raped and needed an abortion as part of a poly to get to Australia for medical treatment from refugee centres on Nauru’.

Subsequently, Mr Dutton commenced defamation proceedings on 23 April 2021, seeking damages and orders preventing Mr Bazzi from publishing any further defamatory materials. In doing so, Mr Dutton alleged that the tweet conveyed four defamatory meanings, being that he:

  1. condones rape;
  2. excuses rape;
  3. condones the rape of women; and
  4. excuses the rape of women.

Justice White ultimately agreed that the tweet conveyed the abovementioned defamatory meanings and so awarded damages in the amount of $35,000.00 against Mr Bazzi. However, his Honour did not award aggravated damages, finding that Mr Bazzi had not acted so improper or unjustifiable to warrant the provision of further damages. Further, orders restraining further publication were not made against Mr Bazzi.

This case is an example of the significant costs which may be incurred if found to have published defamatory materials, especially in circumstances involving a public figure.

On 20 December 2021 Mr Bazzi filed a notice of appeal in the Federal Court on the basis that his Honour made an error in determining that his tweet carried the meaning that Mr Dutton ‘excuses rape’. His legal representatives provided a press release to this effect which was published to Mr Bazzi’s Twitter page shortly thereafter.

We anticipate that the matter will be heard sometime in 2022.