History will obviously look back unkindly on this little phase, while we await the replacement of neoliberalism by the next big thing. Whether that be the new fascism (fun!) or something a little kinder waits to be seen. How this time will be labelled we don’t yet know, but I’m thinking the Age of the Naughty Little Boy might be in the running.

Ranging from the fantastical Donald and Kim show, through the pseudo-intellects of Jordan Peterson and numbing antics of Milo Yiannopoulos, all the way down to Australia’s sad would-be’s like Mark Latham and, well, most of the night-time line-up on Sky News, Naughty Little Boys are tumbling across the landscape, consuming limitless media oxygen. Each fresh outrage spurs them on; the boundaries of decorum fall like ninepins before their fearless pursuit of the politically incorrect.

In this turgid maelstrom of intended offence, some pretty unimpressive men have found their 15 minutes and are milking it like experts. Senator David Leyonhjelm comes across like an old hand at the game, but really he’s only been in provable existence since 2014. Feels like forever.

Leyonhjelm is one of those faux intelligent cross-benchers who speak slowly to appear smart, attach themselves to a single idea which they don’t quite understand, and then let it rip at every opportunity until the few hundred people who accidentally voted for them realise their mistake and transfer their loyalty to the Penguin Appreciation Party. He will, hopefully soon, be gone.

Leyonhjelm is, in theory, a libertarian, a school of thought which he has interpreted to mean that he is free to say whatever he likes, unconstrained by civility, logic or consequences. His colleague, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young of the Greens, is currently testing that proposition.

What exactly was said in the Senate chamber? Hanson-Young accused Leyonhjelm of telling her to “stop shagging men”, and then to “fuck off” when she called him on the misogyny. He didn’t deny the interaction, claiming he was just reacting to her suggestion that all men are rapists. She hadn’t said that, but Naughty Little Boys can’t be expected to worry about literal truth when they’re busy letting their emotions rule. Talking to the ABC, he doubled down by encouraging Hanson-Young to “continue shagging men as she pleases”.

Hanson-Young would probably have let it rest there, had Leyonhjelm not sought refuge at NLB HQ, the Outsiders program at Sky. Egged on by the vast intellects of hosts Rowan Dean and Ross Cameron, Leyonhjelm went the whole way, saying some objectively disgusting things about Hanson-Young’s s-xual activities.

Would Hanson-Young win a defo suit?

Leyonhjelm ain’t apologising, so Hanson-Young is threatening to sue. She can if she likes, and she’ll win if she does. Leyonhjelm and Sky have no defence. He slut-shamed Hanson-Young, she says, and yes he definitely implied that she’s all of that. He can plead male victimhood all he likes, but a defamation jury will see what is plain: a deliberate, indefensibly vile verbal assault by the most public means available on a woman trying to do her job. It isn’t a #MeToo moment; this was never ok.

Law-wise, Hanson-Young would allege a long list of defamatory imputations arising from Leyonhjelm’s various comments on Sky (since he’s immune from what he said in parliament), boiling down to the suggestion that she is a woman of (ahem) easy virtue.

Sky, if it was crazy enough to not have given Hanson-Young whatever she wants including her own show, would be forced to defend on qualified privilege as it could not plead truth. And it would lose, every day of the week. Leyonhjelm would no doubt file a defence claiming that he is not a subject of the Queen or that the entire law of defamation is unconstitutional. Maybe he’ll plead insanity. Whatever, he’ll lose too.

Damages? You might as well bet on red or black as try to put a figure on this, there is no rhyme to defamation payouts. Just ask Rebel Wilson. It’s one of the reasons Hanson-Young would be wise to take stock of just how much she cares about all this before she starts spending serious money. Still, if anyone’s ever been on a defamation definite, then this is the one. Good luck to her.

Worth remembering though that being sued won’t shut Leyonhjelm up; it will reinforce his point. That point is, in his little brain, that he is brave and beleaguered. In reality, he is a grown man with the moral maturity of a Naughty Little Boy. He deserves nothing but cold dismissal by a civil society which recognises that he has nothing to offer it.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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