It’s taken a twice-jailed Holocaust revisionist to achieve the seemingly impossible: unite the Greens and The Australian against a common foe.
As The Australian reports today, controversial historian Fredrick Toben is suing Greens leader Christine Milne and The Oz for defamation over a June article that contained quotes from Milne. Both Milne and the paper — which has editorialised that the Greens should be “destroyed at the ballot box” — will vigorously fight their case, and are expected to rely on the defences of truth or substantial truth.
The article, written by The Oz‘s resident Greens gumshoe Christian Kerr, claimed splits had emerged in the Greens after NSW MP David Shoebridge invited Toben on a cruise raising funds for pro-Palestinian activists. Shoebridge said the offer was a mistake and was withdrawn as soon as he became aware of Toben’s views.
According to Toben’s statement of claim, obtained by Crikey, Kerr’s article and Milne’s quotes contained seven defamatory imputations, including:
- That he fabricated history;
- That his conduct in denying the holocaust is abhorrent and should be condemned unreservedly;
- That he is a Holocaust denier;
- That he is an anti-semite; and
- That he has a racist anti-Jewish agenda.
Toben’s lawyers claim Toben has been “greatly injured in his character, credit, business, personal and professional reputation” by the article “and has been brought into public hatred, ridicule and contempt”.
The Australian is also being sued for defamation by businessman Clive Palmer and by Barbara Ramjan, who made the infamous allegations about the Tony Abbott punch incident.
Toben, whom Crikey was unable to contact this morning, was sentenced to three months in jail in 1999 for contempt for repeatedly publishing material that breached the Racial Discrimination Act. He was also sentenced to nine months prison in 1999 by a German court under a law that prohibits “defaming the dead”.
The statement of claim lists Toben’s lawyer as Carters Law Firm, a small practice in the western Sydney suburb of Auburn. But when Crikey rang Carters we were told Clive Evatt QC will be acting as Toben’s barrister in the case. The 82-year-old Evatt is one of Sydney’s most colourful and best-known defamation lawyers. The legendary art buff has represented bookie Robbie Waterhouse, underworld identity Abe Saffron and Gypsy Fire, a dancer wrongly portrayed by the Truth newspaper as Bob Dylan’s s-x slave.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
Evatt, who describes Toben as an “ordinary school teacher”, said: “I wouldn’t be fighting it [the case] if I didn’t think we have a good chance of winning.”
It is unclear how Toben is funding the defamation action. He was declared bankrupt last September, after being ordered to pay $175,000 in court costs to Jeremy Jones, a former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.
Evatt tells Crikey he is not acting pro-bono, but declined to comment on how Toben is funding the case. When asked how a bankrupt could afford expensive legal action, he said: “He may not be funding it. He may have supporters.”
Evatt says Toben will pay back the legal costs for The Australian and Milne if he loses the case. “He’s a very moral gentleman, ethical,” he said. ” And I’m sure, out of his pension, he will pay something every week to the costs if he loses.”
When asked whether he shares Toben’s provocative views on the Holocaust, he said: “I am neutral … We have a cab rank rule at the bar — we have to take all clients.”
Toben and his associates at the revisionist Adelaide Institute, which he founded but no longer runs, have consistently rejected claims they are Holocaust deniers.