Fairfax Media has called on a Sydney Liberal Party fundraising forum to provide all documents regarding any involvement by federal Treasurer Joe Hockey in its activities as part of the defamation action brought by Mr Hockey.
The Treasurer is suing Fairfax for defamation in the Federal Court, claiming a series of articles published in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times last year conveyed a series of defamatory meanings, including that he “accepted bribes paid to influence the decisions he made as Treasurer”.
Among the articles was a front-page story in May last year that carried the headline “Treasurer for sale”, about Mr Hockey’s alleged involvement in a Liberal Party Fundraising group known as the North Sydney Forum.
Fairfax is defending the case, saying it was reasonable to publish details about the North Sydney Forum, which allegedly offered access to Mr Hockey in exchange for donations to the forum of thousands of dollars, as it was information concerning government and political matters
The Federal Court heard on Wednesday that Fairfax has issued the North Sydney Forum with a subpoena effectively requesting any and all documents relating to Mr Hockey’s involvement in its activities, as well as documents about the activities of the forum more generally.
The subpoena includes a request for any documents relating to:
- Any involvement by Mr Hockey in the establishment of the North Sydney Forum.
- Any involvement by Mr Hockey in the forum’s fundraising activities between 2009 and May last year.
- Any policy directive that the identity of members of the forum should be kept secret.
- The use of funds by the forum, including any involvement by Mr Hockey in these decisions.
- The process by which the National Australia Bank, the Financial Services Council, Restaurant and Catering Australia, Servcorp, Metcash and Australian Water Holdings allegedly became members of the forum, and
- The alleged return of North Sydney Forum membership fees to Australian Water Holdings and any involvement by Mr Hockey in this alleged process.
It is possible that the forum will object to at least part of the subpoena, but it is yet to formally do so.
The court also heard on Wednesday that Mr Hockey has issued a subpoena to Pagemasters – the company which undertakes some sub-editing work for Fairfax Media.
It is understood that Mr Hockey is requesting all communications between Fairfax Media and Pagemasters in relation to the allegedly defamatory stories.
Mr Hockey is claiming that, as a result of articles published on May 5 under the headline “Treasurer for sale” he has been “greatly injured, shunned and avoided and his reputation has been and will be brought into disrepute, odium, ridicule and contempt”.
But Fairfax Media denies the articles and the headlines, including “Treasurer for sale”, are capable of defaming Mr Hockey in the way that he claims.
Further, it says the Australian public has a legitimate and significant interest in the implications of senior government ministers using the authority of their position to assist in fund-raising for a political party.
Mr Hockey said Fairfax Media’s “over-sensational, extravagant and unfair presentation” of the articles indicated an “intent to injure” him.
He is claiming aggravated damages, interest and costs.
Fairfax Media says the articles were based upon information obtained responsibly and fairly.
On Wednesday, Federal Court Registrar Michael Wall gave the North Sydney Forum until January 30 to formally object to the subpoena issued by Fairfax and ordered the parties to return to court on February 4.