Australian treasurer wins defamation suit, hit with hefty bill

  • Reuters, Sydney
  • Updated: Jul 22, 2015 14:14 IST

The Australian treasurer's partial victory in a defamation suit against a newspaper publisher took a sour turn on Wednesday when a court ordered he pay 85% of his legal bill, a result widely expected to leave him out of pocket.

Conservative treasurer Joe Hockey, whose government took power in 2013 on a platform of responsible financial management, was "unrealistic" in his claim for Fairfax Media Ltd to pay all his costs, a Federal Court judge said in a ruling obtained by Reuters.

Rather, Fairfax should pay just 15% of a legal bill for Hockey widely expected to top 1 million Australian dollars ($741,700.00) "as in those proceedings he failed on the matters which were the real core of his claim", the ruling said.

That compares to the 200,000 Australian dollars in damages the court awarded Hockey after it found Fairfax and its newspapers The Sydney, Morning Herald and The Age defamed him in a series of posters and tweets promoting an article about his fundraising activities. It rejected Hockey's claim that the articles themselves defamed him.

"Whilst the cost of this action has been considerable for me, my family and friends, it has been far greater for Fairfax Media," Hockey said in a statement.

Hockey began proceedings in May 2014 following the publication of an article by the newspapers centring on his connection to his conservative Liberal Party's fundraising group.

The court upheld Hockey's claim that a poster headline and tweets reading "Treasurer for sale" implied that he could be bought by political donors.

"Had Mr Hockey sued only on the ... poster and the two tweets ... the proceedings would have been much more confined and, possibly, may not have involved a trial at all," said the court ruling.

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