Today the Full Court of the Federal Court overturned the decision of now retired Judge Richard White, who found that Mr Bazzi had defamed Mr Dutton in a Tweet in February 2021.
The Tweet consisted of the words “Peter Dutton is a rape apologist” with a preview of a link to an article from The Guardian which quoted Mr Dutton when he alleged that refugee women in Nauru detention centres were using false rape claims as a ploy to get to Australia.
The Court noted that the nature of Twitter involves conversations where participants ordinarily correspond without using carefully chosen expressions. As such, Judges Rares, Rangiah, and Wigney held that it is the general impression created in the mind of the ordinary reasonable reader that is important, and not the individual dictionary meaning of the words used.
Mr. Dutton had attempted to argue that the Tweet should be separated into two parts consisting of the statement from Mr. Bazzi and the preview of the link to the article from The Guardian. Mr Dutton submitted that the statement from Mr. Bazzi gave rise to an imputation that he excuses rape.
However, the Court concluded that the Tweet must be read as a whole. They noted that the words used in the preview of the link to the article from The Guardian “did not convey that Mr Dutton had any view about the crime of rape or about rapists; rather it was focused on his sceptical response to women’s claims of rape”; and further, “The Guardian material centres on allegations of rape, not the actual commission of it”.
The Court found that Judge Richard White made a number of errors, including unduly focusing on the words Mr. Bazzi typed, and downplaying the balance of the tweet. He was also found to have erred in being overly influenced by dictionary definitions of individual words as opposed to considering the impression created in the mind of the reader by the tweet as a whole.
“A publication either conveys a meaning or it does not. The answer to that question cannot be, like beauty, in the eyes of the beholder”, and then concluded, “the ordinary reasonable reader would understand that the point that the tweet was conveying was that a “rape apologist” behaves in a way that Mr Dutton had in expressing scepticism about the claims of rape. That is a far cry from conveying the meaning that he excuses the rape itself”.
Lawyers for Mr. Bazzi, O’Brien Criminal & Civil solicitors confirm that Mr. Bazzi is extremely happy and relieved by the result.
“This has been a significant and stressful fight for Mr. Bazzi. He has had to defend a legal action brought by one of the most powerful men in Australia. We are very pleased with today’s outcome. In our view, it is an action that should never have been brought. Those who are elected to public office must expect to be subject to robust criticism, especially with the advent of social media, and society is entitled to expect a greater level of tolerance from such persons. It should only be a rare case where a politician sues a citizen, and not one like this where Mr. Bazzi was clearly making a comment about Dutton’s statements about women in Nauru. Hopefully this victory makes the boundaries much clearer and makes politicians think twice before using defamation as a tool to silence commentary they don’t like.”