The Weekend Australian  21May2023




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

defence read.

The defence comes as Mr Lehrmann gears up for a separate defamation case

against Channel 10 and NewsLife Media, the publisher of 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