“Obviously as Minister for Immigration or Home Affairs, it’s a rough-and-tumble business and there are lots of advocates and a lot of passion in the space where people make comments which are false and untrue, offensive, profane,” Mr Dutton said.
“But that’s part of the rough-and-tumble, if you like. This went beyond that, and it went against who I am, my beliefs.
“For some people, they don’t put constructed arguments. Even given the passion, either because of the limit to their vocabulary or their intellect, they resort to insults or comments which are profane and beyond the reasonable bounds. This went to a different level.
“That’s why I was most offended by it, because I thought it was defamatory. I thought it was hurtful, and I took particular exception to it.”
Mr Dutton said he had arranged for a legal letter to be sent to Greens Senator Larissa Waters for a similar tweet, also on February 25, which referred to Mr Dutton as an “inhuman, sexist rape apologist”.
The tweet followed Mr Dutton’s comment at the press conference about Ms Higgins that he had not been “provided with the ‘she said, he said’ details of the allegation”.
Mr Dutton said he took offence to Ms Waters’ comments, for which she apologised, and took offence to Mr Bazzi repeating them. He said he chose to sue Mr Bazzi because his comment was “egregious” and “goes beyond anything I’ve seen before”.
In court documents, Mr Dutton argues Mr Bazzi’s tweet defamed him by wrongly suggesting he condones rape and excuses rape. The politician is seeking damages, including aggravated damages, and costs.
Mr Bazzi is seeking to rely on the defence of honest opinion and the public interest-style defence of qualified privilege in the case.
His barrister, Richard Potter, SC, said an ordinary reasonable reader would consider the entirety of Mr Bazzi’s tweet, and would have known the additional context related to Ms Higgins.
Mr Potter said no amount of loose thinking by readers would lead to the “strained” interpretation suggested by Mr Dutton.
“If the respondent meant to convey that [Mr Dutton] condones or excuses rape, he could have done so explicitly,” Mr Potter said. “Context is significant, especially in this case.”
Mr Ferrett said Mr Bazzi could have said something in his tweet like “Peter Dutton doesn’t pay sufficient regard to allegations of rape”, but instead chose to say something more impactful, hyperbolic and serious.
“Instead of saying something which the material justified, and which was being debated in the community at the time … he said ‘Peter Dutton is a rape apologist’,” Mr Ferrett said.
The hearing continues.
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