Politics

Peter Dutton Wants Taxpayers To Foot The Bill When MPs Sue Them For Defamation

Dutton is currently suing a voter for defamation.

peter dutton legal fund

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Defence Minister Peter Dutton has proposed a new plan that would see taxpayers funding the legal costs of MPs who pursue defamation cases against regular Australians. To put it simply, Dutton wants taxpayers to foot the bill for defamation suits against them.

According to Dutton, who proposed the idea amid Christian Porter’s ongoing legal issues regarding a blind trust used to fund his own defamation suit, this should be a “workplace entitlement.”

“Defamation trials, in particular, which are expensive — and we note that — particularly when a member of parliament is taking an action against a corporate entity, a media organisation or a government body, for example. These are difficult matters for members,’’ Dutton said last month.

“I think there are other steps that, frankly, should be contemplated between the government and the opposition in relation to what is a significant issue. There are many people who come into this parliament, on both sides, with significant wealth — and good luck to them. There are many members, as I look around, who don’t have those deep pockets to defend a defamation trial, in some cases costing over a million dollars. That’s the reality.

“I think there is a sensible discussion to be had at the appropriate time between the government and the opposition to see what the appropriate next step might be for this parliament. I think it’s a workplace entitlement issue and I think it’s a broader discussion that should be had. We are, as a government, prepared to have that discussion.”

It’s worth noting that Dutton himself is currently suing a voter over a tweet in which the Defence Minister was labelled a “rape apologist.” There is no assertion by Junkee that Dutton is a rape apologist.

The issue was thrust back into the news on Tuesday morning following an episode of the popular 7am Podcast, in which legal academic Bri Lee discussed the impact Dutton’s proposal could have on Australia’s democracy.

“This is happening against a backdrop of a gradual and alarming increase in currently sitting politicians using defamation law to try to silence dissent,” Lee said of Dutton’s lawsuit against refugee advocate Shane Bazzi. “You have very few options unless you are very wealthy or have some kind of public profile. Defending yourself against legal action is incredibly expensive, and it’s expensive for the people launching the action, too.”

“So politicians are also looking now for ways to pay for it. And Porter infamously used a blind trust when he was taking that matter to court against [Louise] Milligan and the ABC. And Peter Dutton has proposed that politicians be allowed to access a kind of pool of taxpayer money to fund their defamation suits, which is extremely concerning.”

The main concern here is that Dutton’s proposal would give politicians — who are already on quite high salaries to begin with — further privilege and protection, while regular Australians are forced to fundraise for their own legal costs, unless they happen to be already wealthy.

“This is happening at the same time that people who are regular citizens who are being sued have to turn to crowdfunding to pay for the action being taken against them,” Lee said. “Essentially what he is suggesting would be exacerbating these serious inequalities in access to the law.”

The criticism of Dutton’s proposal comes as Christian Porter has rejected reports he will resign from politics altogether ahead of the 2022 Federal Election, following the scandal.