Not fit for office
In the public domain, individuals who had known a thing or two about the spiritual and physical torment of rape expressed their puzzlement over Dutton’s response. Higgins, who is seeking redress for her own suffering in this matter, found the minister’s legal response to Bazzi “baffling”. “I’ve been offended plenty.” Despite that, it still afforded “people … the right to engage in public debate and assert their opinion.” The whole case was a “shocking indictment on free speech.”
In finding for Dutton in November, Justice White ruled that the tweet had been defamatory, and that Bazzi could not resort to the defence of honest opinion. With classic, skewering casuistry, the judge found that “Bazzi may have used the word ‘apologist’ without an understanding of the meaning he was, in fact conveying.” If this had been the case, “it would follow that he did not hold the opinion actually conveyed by the words.” Let it be known: if you do no not understand the meaning of certain words, you can have no opinions about them.
Despite his eagerness to seek damages for all grounds, Dutton was only successful on one of the four pleaded imputations. Claims for aggravated damages and an injunction targeting Bazzi’s comments, were rejected. The Defence Minister’s appetite for pursuing Bazzi for his full legal bill also troubled Justice White, who had repeatedly urged the parties to reach a settlement. Why had Dutton not sued in a lower court, he asked? The reason, claimed Dutton’s barrister Hamish Clift this month, was because his client was a prominent figure requiring a prominent stage to protect his prominent reputation. “It would not be appropriate for the court,” retorted White, “to exercise their discretion more favourably to Dutton simply because of the important public and national office of which he holds.”