The man attempting to have Josh Frydenberg disqualified from parliament has launched a defamation action against Scott Morrison after the prime minister described the move on the Treasurer as “anti-Semitic”.
Climate activist Michael Staindl, a resident of Frydenberg’s electorate of Kooyong, last year filed a petition alleging the Treasurer was disqualified by section 44 of the constitution because he is a citizen of Hungary due to his mother’s citizenship status.
Frydenberg denies the claim.
Staindl alleges Morrison defamed him at a press conference on December 24 in South Australia, during which the Prime Minister described the action against Frydenberg as “the most despicable case that I’ve seen undertaken against a member”.
“You know, I’ve called it out as being anti-Semitic, and I still think that it is,” Morrison said, without naming Staindl. A transcript of the comments is still available on the Prime Minister’s website.
Bleyer Lawyers, representing Staindl, claim that the imputations include that Staindl is anti-Semitic; discriminates against people of the Jewish faith; dislikes the Treasurer because he is Jewish; and is motivated by his hatred of Jews in bringing the proceeding against the Treasurer.
Staindl’s claim continues: “The highly sensitive nature of your comments and the inference that our client dislikes people of the Jewish faith has the potential to subject our client to hate speech, violence and vilification.”
Staindl, a climate activist, has previously maintained that he was motivated to file his section 44 case against Frydenberg because he felt “betrayed” by what he considered Frydenberg’s lack of action on climate change.
“I think he’s consistently betrayed me, the electorate and the country on climate change,” he told The Guardian last year.
Frydenberg has contested the claim that he had Hungarian citizenship by descent, maintaining that his family was officially stateless when they arrived from Hungary after World War II. The episode painfully re-opened the plight of European Jews who fled the Holocaust.
Staindl’s lawyers’ demands include that Morrison publicly apologise for his statements with an agreed form of words and that the Prime Minister pays damages of $50,000, as well as Staindl’s reasonable legal expenses.
The citizenship case is ongoing and will be back before the Federal Court in Melbourne next week.
Crikey has contacted Scott Morrison’s office for comment.