The Federal Court judge overseeing Victorian MP Moira Deeming’s defamation case against the state Liberal leader has urged her to revisit the “stark” number of alleged imputations.
Ms Deeming launched defamation proceedings against John Pesutto after the party leader expelled her from the Victorian Liberals last year.
Across a series of media releases and interviews, as well as her 15-page expulsion document, it’s alleged Mr Pesutto made 67 defamatory imputations over five publications linking her to neo-Nazis.
Ms Deeming has argued the imputations “gravely” injured her reputation.
The alleged imputations include that Ms Deeming supports or sympathises with neo-Nazis, holds white supremacist views or is a neo-Nazi.
She has denied any links to far-right extremists and remains a crossbench MP.
The former Liberal MP was expelled from the party after promoting and speaking at a rally in March last year.
Organised by controversial far-right British activist Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, also known as Posie Parker, the “Let Women Speak” rally was gatecrashed by white supremacist groups who performed a Nazi salute outside Parliament House.
In a defence filed with the court, Mr Pesutto’s lawyers have denied many of the imputations conveyed and accused Mrs Deeming of ruining her own reputation.
It claimed Ms Deeming should have left after members of the National Socialist Network hijacked the event and displayed a banner that read “DESTROY PAEDO FREAKS”.
Mr Pesutto’s lawyers will rely on an honest opinion defence as well as contextual truth and qualified privilege.
In court, Justice Michael Wheelahan questioned the “stark” number of alleged imputations put forward by Ms Deeming’s lawyers.
“How many ways are there of saying the same thing?” he said.
As an example, he raised an 18-line media statement released by Mr Pesutto after the rally that Ms Deeming claims carried 23 defamatory imputations.
In response, Ms Deeming’s barrister, Sue Chrysanthou SC, said the alleged imputations captured “varying seriousness”.
“They’re all different levels of culpability, because of the different wordings Mr Pesutto uses,” she said.
“We’ve identified the different alternatives.”
She asked Justice Wheelahan to split the case into two trials, one to determine which, if any, of the imputations the justice believes were conveyed before moving to any possible defence and judgment of damages.
Ms Chrysanthou argued it would save court time and each party money, saying it’s “convenient to have that issue decided upfront”.
But Justice Wheelahan rejected this idea, saying he was “resistant” to the idea of laundering the imputations through a separate trial to determine what Ms Deeming’s actual case was.
He suggested Ms Deeming’s lawyers “revise” their case before the next court date.
A two-week trial for the defamation case is set down to begin on September 16.