For all our politicians profess a love of free speech, here are some of our elected representatives who decided to cash in on a media that might have been a little too free ...
This list is adapted from Crikey's 2002, 2005 and 2009 lists on this subject, with more recent updates included. We have, however, limited this list to elected politicians (not staffers or political operatives) who have sued media outlets over their coverage. Also, threats to sue are a dime a dozen, so we've only included politicians who have actually filed writs. It was first published in January 2015, and had several new names updated in April 2015. Have we missed anyone? Get in touch.
A massive thanks to the lovely people at Marque Lawyers for trawling the case books to fill the gaps in our research, which they volunteered to do for "fun".
Along with then-treasurer Peter Costello, Abbott successfully sued Labor gadfly and walking litigation machine Bob Ellis in 1998 over false allegations related to their personal lives. Both politicians and their wives shared in $277,500 in damages. Ellis claims it cost his publisher Random House $1 million (the publisher had to pulp and print a second edition with the untrue allegation excised). It all seems water under the bridge now -- Abbott personally launched Ellis' The Capitalism Delusion
The infamous Queensland premier sued the ABC over allegations of corruption and rorts in his government. He also sued Channel Nine and collected a $400,000 settlement, which the dodgy entrepreneur said was to help him do business in Queensland. He also sued then-opposition leader Tom Burns on numerous occasions and always used Ebsworths for his various other defo writs, which totalled more than 20.
The former Labor health minister successfully sued a magazine that criticised his policies towards AIDS and said he was gay. Years later he came out and now lives with his male partner in the Blue Mountains.
: Sued Crikey
in the Adelaide District Court and also won a settlement from Channel Seven in the late 1980s after Dennis Grant went on Tonight Live with Steve Vizard
and said that Bolkus had been involved in a "punch-up" at a post-budget drinks. Cabinet made a decision to fund Bolkus' action, but the settlement was rumored to be about $40,000 plus costs, so the taxpayer got their money back. Crikey
eventually settled in 2002 for $25,000 with no apology required.
The former NSW Liberal politician (who was in 2014 briefly advising Ricky Muir) brought an action against Nationwide News in 2007 over the newspaper’s publication relating to Breen’s book, Life as a Sentence:The True Story of the Janine Balding Murder.
Breen claimed the publication imputed he had romantic relations with two convicted rapists and murderers. Both parties were granted leave to make amendments to their pleadings, but it appears that the matter settled after these amendments. Breen himself was successfully sued for defamation by two police detectives in relation to the book.
Gough Whitlam’s disastrous treasurer and his secretary, Junie Morosi, sued The National Times
over an article alleging they were each involved in an improper sexual relationship. He admitted the relationship
The federal ALP leader in the 1960s sued The Sunday Review
over an article that said Calwell was really a traditional conservative conducting a rearguard action against progressive socialist policies favoured by Whitlam.
The Labor senator and former communications minister once sued 774 ABC Melbourne morning presenter Jon Faine (as Faine revealed on radio in 2010).
Successfully sued (with his wife) over Bob Ellis’ Goodbye Jerusalem
. Also sued John Halfpenny in the '80s over a speech at Monash University -- reported by The Age
-- in which he essentially said Costello was like the emperor with no clothes. Cossie only sued Halfpenny (not The Age
) and reached a tidy out-of-court settlement.
High-profile Victorian ALP upper house member sued the Toorak Times
in the '80s over a story that had labelled her a traitor for revealing the home address of the ASIO boss. Toorak Times
editor Jack Pacholli was a legendary Melbourne gutter publisher who successfully avoided having to pay many of his legal losses by appointing his dog as publisher.
the former WA Liberal senator sued senator Sue Knowles, resulting in a $20,000 settlement in his favour.
The South Australian Labor politician brought proceedings against Channel Nine in 2005 in relation to a television broadcast where statements were made that, Clarke alleged, could be understood to mean that he had been convicted of domestic violence and was responsible for making his partner attempt suicide. Channel Nine raised the defences of fair comment on a matter of public interest and justification. The South Australian Supreme Court held in an interlocutory hearing that the facts relied on by Channel Nine in the broadcast which were not notorious, or widely known by public viewers, and could not be relied upon to support their defence of fair comment. The matter appears to have settled some time after this.
Another South Australian Labor MP, Conlon successfully sued the Sunday Mail
over articles falsely asserting that he was in politics just for perks like attending sporting events. He was awarded $40,000 in damages.
A prominent South Australian newspaper columnist and candidate in the 2007 federal election, Cornes sued Channel Ten and Mick Malloy personally over a 2008 episode of Before the Game
. During the episode in question, Molloy insinuated that Cornes was having an affair with AFL player Stuart Dew (Cornes is married to AFL player Graham Cornes). The court found that reasonable viewers would have taken Molloy’s remarks literally. Cornes was awarded around $100,000 in damages.
The federal Labor member for Melbourne Ports successfully sued Channel Seven, Sky News and Glenn Milne in 1998 for alleging he had engaged in domestic violence. Will Houghton QC acted for Seven but never thought the matter would actually get to court.
The NSW Liberal Senator commenced defamation proceedings against Nationwide News over two Sunday Telegraph
articles concerning travel entitlements of members of parliament and a study tour taken by the senator to Italy. The NSW Supreme Court struck out the majority of imputations the senator claimed were defamatory. Nationwide News then attempted to amend its defence, but the motion was denied. It appears the matter settled some time after this in 2011.
: Kevin Rudd's former defence minister and Helen Liu sued The Age
in 2010 for claims about their financial and political relationship.
The former NSW Labor MP (and rugby league player) commenced defamation proceedings against News in 2007 over comments made in three separate articles published in The Daily Telegraph
. The articles allegedly implied that he had accepted taxpayer funded overseas study tours where he failed to attend the meetings he was there to attend. A NSW jury found that the imputations complained of were not defamatory, leading to an appeal by Gibson. The NSW Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed Gibson’s appeal.
The former Liberal prime minister sued the ABC over a This Day Tonight
interview by Richard Carleton in which it was implied that Gorton had instructed Malcolm Fraser to issue a false denial of a story that he knew to be true.
the former Labor MP for Syndal in the Victorian Parliament sued The Sun News Pictorial
but lost and was ordered to pay the costs of the five-day hearing after the judge said The Sun News Pictorial
had written a fair report of Jeff Kennett’s claims in Parliament that Gray was involved in the preparation and distribution of bogus Nuclear Disarmament Party how-to-vote cards at the 1985 Nunawading byelection.
Sued the ABC when Triple J played the Pauline Pantsdown song I’m a Backdoor Man.
The song accused her of being a homosexual and a generally unsavoury character, and the court ordered that it not be played again.