Colourful former South Australian Labor senator and Justice Minister Nick Bolkus has notched up his third defamation victory, helping himself to a $46,350 judgment courtesy of The Australian, which was not big enough to report its own defeat in today’s paper. The Advertiser gave it a few pars today and AAP had more detail last night.

These AAP lines suggest that The Australian stuffed up and then paid the price for publishing a tiny and grudging apology four months later:

Bolkus sued the newspaper for defamation after it published a story in February 2004 about political donations and perceived loopholes in regulations. Mr Bolkus was not mentioned in the story but his photograph was published along with the article. He said the story implied he was involved in corrupt activities and its publication had been a factor in his decision to retire from politics.

The judge noted that The Australian, which said it printed Mr Bolkus’s photograph by accident, published an apology in June last year but that it was not given due prominence.

“The position and size of the apology in this case is such that, far from being fulsome, it bordered on the begrudging,” Judge Burley said. “It could easily have been missed.”

Having received an estimated $40,000 payout from Channel Seven, then in receivership, over a Dennis Grant comment in the early 1990s and an additional $25,000 from Crikey in May 2003, Bolkus has maintained a batting record better than most litigious characters, although we believe there have been other skirmishes earlier in his career.

Whilst Bolkus will never approach the $2 million-plus that Bob Hawke received in confidential tax-free defamation settlements over the years, he knows how to extract cash from the smaller cases and defamation has helped him reach millionaire status.

A two-time settler has also proved that he’s happy to go the distance this time, although he was very keen to settle with Crikey after my Adelaide lawyer was conflicted out of the case in embarrassing circumstances.

South Australia has been a very happy hunting ground for defamation plaintiffs over the years, with the Hindmarsh Island developers Tom and Wendy Chapman collecting several hundred thousands dollars from several cases, so it was not surprising that Bolkus opted to sue in his home state. Once again this case against a national newspaper demonstrates how ludicrous it is having eight different sets of defamation laws.

It might be worth a Crikey list tracking public figures who have issued three times or more. We know that shock jock Steve Price has fired off four writs over the years and, along with Alan Jones, John Laws and Richard Sleeman, is up there in the “most litigious journalist” ranks.

Other prominent names in the triple defo club include Laurie Connell, Alan Bond, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Kerry Packer, Sir Peter Abeles, Jeff Kennett, Rene Rivkin, the Waterhouse Family, Lloyd Williams/Ron Walker and Nick Whitlam.

Check out Crikey’s earlier defamation list here and send any updates to [email protected]

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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