Joe Hockey's defamation case just cost him $500,000

Treasurer Joe Hockey. Photo: Getty Images

Joe Hockey won $200,000 in damages from Fairfax Media last month after suing them for defamation over a story titled “Treasurer for sale”, about a Liberal party fundraising group.

The treasurer sued three papers which printed the story: The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times.

Justice Richard White of Sydney’s Federal Court ruled that the article was not defamatory, but Hockey received $80,000 for two tweets about the story by The Age, plus $120,000 for The Sydney Morning Herald’s advertising poster from May 5, 2014. Hockey lost his case against The Canberra Times.

Today, the treasurer lost big time when Justice White said Hockey must wear 85% of his legal costs in the case. Fairfax will pay 15%.

The federal treasurer is estimated to have spent around $800,000 in legal fees to mount his case. That means he’ll get $100,000 from Fairfax on top of the $200,000 defamation payout, plus $7000 in interest.

That leaves him about $500,000 out of pocket.

Hockey’s barrister Bruce McClintock wanted Fairfax to pay all his costs, but Fairfax barrister Sandy Dawson argued because it won “the core” of the case when the article itself was not found to be defamatory, the treasurer’s case was an “unmitigated disaster”. It wanted him to pay the media company’s costs.

Justice White ruled the treasurer had “only partial success” in his case.

“It is obvious in those circumstances that Mr Hockey is not entitled to the whole of his costs,” he said.

“I accept the respondents’ submissions that it would be manifestly unfair if, despite the failures of Mr Hockey, he was nevertheless entitled to his costs on an indemnity basis.”

Because the ruling was made on an ordinary, rather than indemnity basis, it means the treasurer cannot claim 15% of his total costs, meaning only 60-70% of a total bill is recoverable.

Joe Hockey released the following statement this afternoon:

After nearly 20 years in public life I took this action to stand up to malicious people intent on vilifying Australians who choose to serve in public office to make their country a better place.

I do not regret taking this action.

The Federal Court has found that The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age defamed me.

The Federal Court has found that Fairfax Media acted with malice through the actions of their editor and chief Darren Goodsir.

This is an unprecedented by a court against an editor-in-chief of a major Australian newspaper.

The Federal Court dismissed Fairfax Media’s defence and awarded me damages.

The Federal Court dismissed Fairfax Media’s claim for me to pay the majority of their legal fees.

The Federal Court instead ordered Fairfax Media to pay part of my legal costs.

Whilst the cost of this action has been considerable for me, my family and my friends, it has been far greater for Fairfax Media.

They are clearly not “Independent. Always.”

As always, my job as treasurer and member for North Sydney is the focus of my attention.

* Allure Media, publisher of Business Insider Australia, is owned by Fairfax Media.

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