An appeal by ex-senator David Leyonhjelm against Senator Sarah Hanson-Young’s $120,000 defamation damages award has been dismissed in a full Federal Court majority decision.
The Greens senator successfully sued her former upper house colleague over comments that portrayed her as a hypocrite and misandrist after he told her to “stop shagging men,” when he believed she said in parliament that “all men are rapists”.
Mr Leyonhjelm appealed on the grounds that what he said was governed under parliamentary privilege or qualified privilege, as well as disputing the acts were caused by malice.
But this was dismissed on Wednesday by Justices Michael Wigney and Wendy Abraham who ordered the former Liberal Democrat senator to pay Senator Hanson-Young’s legal costs.
Senator Hanson-Young described her victory against the “crass, offensive and obviously sexist” attack on her character and integrity as a victory for all women.
“It sends a timely and critical message that women deserve to be safe and respected in our workplaces, in our schools and in our communities,” Ms Hanson-Young wrote said a statement.
In Mr Leyonhjelm’s appeal submissions, he claimed there could not be a fair trial of Senator Hanson-Young’s original assertions under the Parliamentary Privileges Act, saying in the interests of justice the trial should have been granted a permanent stay.
He contended it was not up to the court to determine whether or not Senator Hanson-Young had actually said the words debated upon.
“Thinking that something was said, in the circumstances of this case, cannot be used as a cover or guise for statements made foreign to the occasion of the privilege and where those statements are actuated by malice,” Justice Abraham said in dismissing the appeal.
Justice Wigney also stated that “none of Mr Leyonhjelm’s grounds of appeal have been found to have any merit”.
But Justice Steven Rares upheld the appeal stating however offensive or tasteless the comments were, he believed his criticisms were justified.
“His honest belief in that understanding created the occasion of qualified privilege which he used to cause Senator Hanson-Young political damage, which is not malice,” Justice Rares said.
The slanderous comment from Mr Leyonhjelm occurred during a senate motion on June 28, 2018, in discussing women’s safety following the brutal and highly publicised rape of young Melbourne woman Eurydice Dixon.
Senator Hanson-Young then complained about Mr Leyonhjelm’s conduct to the senate, to which he responded with a statement that he would not be withdrawing or apologising for his comments.
He gave subsequent interviews about the matter with Sky News, Melbourne radio station 3AW and the ABC’s 7.30 program up until July 2, 2018.
Justice Richard White in November found Mr Leyonhjelm did honestly believe Senator Hanson-Young had interjected with the “absurd” collective statement about men, but rather said words to the effect that “more guns on the streets won’t protect women from men”.
Justice White ruled it was reckless for Mr Leyonhjelm not to verify the accuracy of the claim he continued to repeat, and that he published it to a mass audience “with a view to shaming (Senator Hanson-Young) publicly”.
She said the decision sent a message to parliamentarians that they are not above the law and that she would be donating the money towards two women’s charities.