The Weekend Australian 21May2023
HIGGINS BROADCAST IN THE PUBLIC
The ABC will rely on a new public interest defence in its defamation battle
against Bruce Lehrmann, arguing the broadcast of Brittany Higgins’ National
Press Club address was of importance to Australians because it concerned the
“safety of persons in Parliament House”.
The public broadcaster’s defence, released on Friday, also argued Mr
Lehrmann had no grounds for defamation as he was not named during the
Mr Lehrmann is suing the ABC after it televised the National Press Club
event on February 9, 2022, and uploaded a YouTube video of it which together
attracted 276,000 views. His trial over rape allegations by his former
colleague and Liberal Party staffer Ms Higgins was abandoned in October.
Mr Lehrmann has always maintained his innocence. In his original
statement of claim he said the ABC broadcasts were defamatory because the
imputation was that he “raped Brittany Higgins on a couch in Parliament
The ABC claimed Mr Lehrmann was “not named in the matters complained
of” and therefore his reputation could not have been damaged. The ABC
argued if, as declared in Mr Lehrmann’s statement of claim, it was notorious
he was the person accused and charged with Ms Higgins’ alleged assault,
“the matters complained of would not have caused, and were not likely to
cause, serious harm to Lehrmann’s reputation”.
The ABC also outlined reasons for the broadcast being in the public’s
interest, including that it concerned former prime minister Scott Morrison’s
response to an allegation of rape in Parliament House. The broadcaster also
said it was relevant because it concerned the forthcoming federal election
and the “work of Ms Higgins as an advocate for survivors of sexual assault
and her treatment by members of the public, the media and others”.
A text exchange between Ms Higgins and former deputy prime minister
Barnaby Joyce, after Mr Morrison learnt of the alleged sexual assault, also
made the Press Club address a matter of public interest, the defence claimed.
In the messages, Mr Joyce described Mr Morrison as “a hypocrite and a liar”.
Further, it said the broadcast related to “the circumstances of child sexual
abuse and the trauma caused by such abuse; the relationship between
perpetrators of child sexual abuse and survivors of such abuse; and the
government’s response to the issue of abuse, the adequacy of funding for
preventive education and the need for legislative change in respect of the
perpetrators of abuse.”
The ABC argued it was “merely a subordinate distributor” of the National
Press Club address, and “neither knew, nor ought reasonably to have known,
that the broadcasts were defamatory”.
“The ABC’s lack of knowledge was not due to any negligence on its part,” the
The defence comes as Mr Lehrmann gears up for a separate defamation case
against Channel 10 and NewsLife Media, the publisher of News.com.au and
which is owned by News Corp Australia, publisher of The Weekend
Australian. The case concerns interviews with Ms Higgins published and
broadcast in mid-February. While Mr Lehrmann was not named in the
interviews, conducted by journalists Lisa Wilkinson and Samantha Maiden,
his legal team argued he was identified indirectly.
Ten and NewsLife Media reject the accusation they identified Mr Lehrmann,
but will seek to rely in part on a defence of truth