Peter Dutton, the current leader of the Liberal Party and former Minister of Defence and Leader of the House in the Morrison government has recently lost his defamation case on appeal against refugee advocate, Shane Bazzi.
In February 2021, Bazzi tweeted a link to an article which quoted Dutton. The tweet allegedly claimed that refugee women were using false rape allegations as a means of entering Australia. This tweet also had a comment which labelled Dutton as ‘a rape apologist’. On first instance, the Federal Court held that the tweet was defamatory and Bazzi was ordered to pay damages of $35,000.
In the appeal, Bazzi’s legal team argued that the Twitter post itself needed to be read in tandem with the news article attached. The Full Court agreed that the tweet and article must be read as a whole. Their Honours also found that the primary judge had erred in his reasoning because he did not substantiate how the reader would comprehend the whole of the tweet to convey the imputation.
The Full Court ultimately held that when the tweet and article were read together, the reader would reasonably conclude that Dutton was sceptical about claims of rape and could be categorised as an apologist. However, the court stated that this conclusion is very different from imputing that Dutton is an excuser of rape.
Their Honours determined that although Bazzi’s six-word tweet alone could imply Dutton is a defender of rape, it was unlikely that this meaning would be drawn from the tweet as a whole.
In its concluding remarks, the court found the tweet to be ‘derogatory’ in nature. However, being ‘merely offensive’ is not sufficient to establish on the balance of probabilities, that the reader would have comprehended the imputation.
The court therefore ordered that the appeal be allowed, the prior judgement and damages order to be set aside and the proceedings be dismissed.
To read the full judgment of Bazzi v Dutton  FCAFC 84, click here.
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