From mid-2021 through to September of 2022, leader of the Coalition, Peter Dutton, and refugee activist, Shane Bazzi, were engaged in a legal dispute, with Mr. Dutton having sued Mr. Bazzi for defamation. The claim was in regards to a tweet Mr. Bazzi had posted calling Mr. Dutton a “rape apologist.”
In April of 2021 Mr. Dutton began issuing legal notices against social media users for making remarks about him online. This followed Greens Senator, Larissa Waters, calling Mr. Dutton “an inhuman, sexist rape apologist,” with #DuttonisaRapeApologist trending for a short period on Twitter, for which Mr. Dutton demanded an apology from Ms. Waters.
In March, Mr. Dutton had stated in an exchange on 2GB that although he had “let a lot” go with regards to online abuse, “there has to be a floor, there needs to be a red line”.
In June of 2021 Federal Court Justice, Richard White, ordered Mr. Dutton to attend a mediation session with Mr. Bazzi. Justice White reportedly expected the two parties to have settled the matter without requiring a trial stating:
“without meaning any disrespect to anyone ... this would not be amongst the biggest defamation cases that have come before the court…I would have thought that this is a matter that should be able to be settled.”
In August of the same year it was reported that the resolution process had failed between the two parties with Mr. Bazzi having crowdfunded $150,000 to finance his case.
On the 24th of November 2021 Justice White ruled in Mr. Dutton's favour and ordered Mr. Bazzi to pay $35,000 in damages. However, Justice White refused Mr. Dutton’s request for an injunction against Mr. Bazzi to prevent him from tweeting about Mr. Dutton in the future. Mr. Bazzi and his legal team appealed the decision.
In May of 2022 Justice White’s original decision was overturned with the Full Court of the Federal Court, Justices Darryl Rangiah, Michael Wigney and Steven Rares, finding that the words "rape apologist", when taken in the context of the whole message together with The Guardian article to which it was linked, referred to Mr. Dutton's attitude only to claims of rape and not to rape in general and therefore did not ammount to defamation:
“When that material is read with Mr Bazzi’s six words, the reader would conclude that the tweet was suggesting that Mr Dutton was sceptical about claims of rape and in that way was an apologist. But that is very different from imputing that he excuses rape itself.”
The court then ordered both parties to file submissions regarding the payment of legal costs for both the trial and the appeal.
In June of 2022, Mr. Dutton and his legal team then appealed the High Court for special leave in regards to his loss on appeal, suggesting that the appeal had been a “miscarriage of justice.”
In September of 2022 the case was resolved with Mr. Dutton dropping his appeal to the high court and Mr. Bazzi ceasing his bid for legal costs. Mr. Bazzi made a statement highlighting the stress of fighting a legal battle with one of Australia’s highest-ranking politicians:
“Fighting a defamation claim brought by one of the most powerful men in the country has been a harrowing ordeal for me and my family…It has caused me immense distress. I am proud that I fought this case and was vindicated by the full court of the federal court. Citizens should have the freedom to reasonably criticise politicians without fear of being sued.”