Image copyright AFP Image caption Immigration Minister Peter Dutton accused him of attempting to damage his reputation
An Australian minister who called a political opponent a “filthy little liar” has won a defamation case brought by his opponent.
Mr Peter Dutton, the immigration minister, had accused One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts of lying about his past.
Mr Roberts had admitted to receiving a forged document from Venezuela when his application for a refugee visa was rejected.
Mr Dutton said he had been given “absolute authority” over his supporters and his wife had said the comment was meant “mockingly”.
The former police officer filed a defamation case against Senator Roberts, who described the decision to sue as “foolish”.
Image copyright AFP Image caption Senator Roberts entered the hearing after describing the decision to sue as “foolish”
Disputing claims that he lied, Senator Roberts described Mr Dutton as “an authoritarian, hopelessly out of touch minister”, who “despises anyone with an alternative opinion”.
Monday’s defamation case, which lasted four hours, focused on a tweet, which Mr Dutton took from a senior colleague.
“New fact: One Nation has considered producing a fake dossier of lies & half-truths about @PWRobertsMP,” the tweet, which was tweeted from another member of the Prime Minister’s frontbench, read.
Image copyright AFP Image caption Mr Dutton, who labelled Senator Roberts a liar, said he had been given “absolute authority” over his supporters
In court on Monday, Australian National University lecturer Ian Hancox revealed that Senator Roberts had sent him the document to back up his claim.
The disputed document, titled ‘Malcolm Roberts’ Biological Test Date & Time’, said Senator Roberts had been born in Trinidad in 1961, and had never met his parents.
It was accompanied by a certificate from an academic called Professor Steve McCrindle, who used the documents to enter the applicant’s details into the official census database.
Senator Roberts told the court that Mr McCrindle, who worked for a non-profit organisation, had never visited Trinidad, was not a cardiologist, and had never conducted an assessment of his physical condition.
In his opening address, Mr Hancox referred to the “truly amateurish” nature of the documents, and said the documents were so inconclusive that “they could not possibly support Senator Roberts’ application for refugee status”.
Mr Hancox also said there was “nothing in the issue of where I was born that could not have been answered either by telephone or email”.
Later, he said Senator Roberts’ claim that he was being “attacked for a crime” was “totally unfounded”.
Mr Hancox said if Senator Roberts had been denied refugee status, he would not be expected to allow a document bearing his photograph, and complete with a stamp, to be forged on his behalf.
He also said the documents, which resembled “festival goods” found in bookshops, “could hardly have supported any suggestion that the applicant was born in Trinidad or even in what is effectively Canada”.
Image copyright AFP Image caption One Nation leader Pauline Hanson has previously described Mr Dutton as “an idiot”
The second most senior member of the Prime Minister’s frontbench, Senator Dutton had tweeted in March that Senator Roberts was “falsely claiming he was born in Trinidad in 1961 when it is clear he has never even been there”.
“I was given absolute authority over my supporters and my wife has confirmed this comment to me,” the minister later tweeted, adding: “I simply dare @PWRobertsMP to take me to the Australian courts to demand an apology or retract a big fat lie as well.”
When asked if he would withdraw the comments, Mr Dutton answered: “Not on your life, mate.”
Later, he referred to Senator Roberts as a “filthy little liar”.
Mr Dutton’s wife Louise told a judge that the comment “was meant as a flippant jibe meant to mock, not as a reflection of my belief in him [Senator Roberts]”.
The government responded by saying the race card should never be used in Australian politics.
Senator Roberts’ lawyers said the case was designed to “clear the air” about reports that he was being investigated by police over a “suspicious” bank account.
The case will resume on 10 July, when the judge said he would consider possible sanctions on both sides.