SYDNEY (Reuters) - A female senator in Australia won a A$120,000 ($81,432) payout on Monday after suing a male colleague for defamation for sexually offensive remarks, closing a case that brought the spirit of the #MeToo movement to Australia’s parliament.
During a June 2018 debate in parliament over a ban on using pepper spray, libertarian Senator David Leyonhjelm had heckled Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, telling her to “stop shagging men”, a vulgar colloquial term for sexual intercourse.
Comments made in the chamber are subject to legal protections. But Leyonhjelm repeated the remark, using the same term, in subsequent media appearances.
Hanson-Young then filed a lawsuit, the country’s first between sitting politicians, accusing Leyonhjelm of defaming her by suggesting she was a hypocrite for claiming all men were rapists but still having sexual relations with them.
“The whole thing is just really awful and part of me wants to not go through with the court case because it’s so exhausting, but I can’t let him get away with this,” Hanson-Young said in a hearing, according to a ruling published on Monday by Federal Court judge Richard White.
“He will continue to bully me unless I stand up to him, so I have to.”
Leyonhjelm admitted to the court his public statements carried the meaning suggested by his colleague but defended the lawsuit on the grounds that he was protected by parliamentary privilege. Leyonhjelm also told the court his colleague already “had, or deserved, a bad reputation”, the judgment said.
But judge White rejected Leyonhjelm’s defense, saying his “conduct was not reasonable and had in any event been actuated by malice”.
“He published his claim concerning the applicant to a mass audience with the intention of publicly shaming her,” White wrote in a summary of his findings on Monday.
He ordered Leyonhjelm to pay Hanson-Young A$120,000 as “aggravated damages”.
Hanson-Young wrote in a post from her Twitter account that she sued Leyonhjelm “for every woman & girl who’s been told or made to stay silent in the face of harassment and disrespect”.
“Today’s ruling is a win for them,” she wrote.
Leyonhjelm quit the federal parliament in March to run for a state seat, unsuccessfully. Calls to his former media adviser and his party, the Liberal Democrats, were unanswered, while Leyonhjelm did not respond to a message seeking comment on his Facebook page.
Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Kim Coghill