Australian politician wins court case over ‘lying’ tweet

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s conservative leader, ordered his former spokesman to pay his legal costs

An Australian politician won a defamation case after tweeting that his former communications adviser had helped a woman accused of being an adulterer.

Liberal senator Malcolm Roberts’s call for his former communications director to be banned from the country’s airwaves was published on social media.

Roberts went on to successfully sue Jonathon Moylan for defamation after he sent a tweet calling the politician a “ratbag”, a “cretin” and a “libtard”.

The case cost the senator’s former adviser about £5,000 (US$7,000).

It saw politicians on both sides of the political divide disagreeing passionately on social media.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Jonathon Moylan has suggested it was his right to keep the tweet

Jonathon Moylan, the communications director, was ordered to pay Mr Roberts’s costs of A$80,000 (US$56,000; A$65,000).

“He [Mr Moylan] accepted his statements had caused Mr Roberts deep personal injury,” Judge David McNaughton told a Supreme Court in Perth.

There is an “apparent connection between the statement and Mr Roberts’s action”, he said.

“There is an overwhelming public interest in the protection of Australian politicians as people,” he said.

‘I’m deeply sorry’

Mr Roberts, the most senior of the eight federal lawmakers ordered to give evidence at the trial, had previously claimed the Australian Broadcasting Corporation had wrongfully called him a “cretin” for linking Moylan to the $8,000 in charges he incurred on his parliamentary laptop and phone at the Adelaide airport.

Moylan, who is also from Western Australia, was a part of the “great human rights scandal of 2017” and provided a “false and a misleading account of the facts”, he said.

With journalist Maree Hair in the witness box, Moylan testified that he was shocked at the comments after he saw them on a social media page run by the Australian Greens party.

He had written a tweet on the law firm Mallesons representing Mrs May as she launched her manifesto in 2016.

In his attack, Mr Roberts alleged Moylan had assisted Helen Sheng, a Taiwanese woman who is married to Mr Roberts’s cousin, to get legal permanent residence after alleging she had sex with another man while pregnant.

“I intend to sue John for defamation for putting a false account of an isolated incident. I can’t stand the thought that he (the man) could come here and marry a Senator,” the party’s communications director, who has worked for Mr Roberts for a decade, wrote.

“The Government should be absolutely rigorous in kicking her off the plane. If he [Moylan] knows the truth, shame on him. If he has something to hide, put the pig into a crutch.”

On Wednesday, Mr Roberts apologised for his comments.

“I’m deeply sorry,” he said. “I can only regret the false and misleading statements made about the fraud allegations.”

Mr Moylan, in turn, said he was overwhelmed by the result.

The former staffer says he has already received another $5,000 from Ms Sheng.

Leave a Comment