Queensland Labor MP Terri Butler has issued a public apology and offered “modest payment” along with paying the legal fees of a Queensland University of Technology law student suing her for defamation.
Student Calum Thwaites was at the centre of dispute involving section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, involving QUT’s indigenous unit and a member of staff.
Thwaites was accused of posting the term “ITT niggers” on Facebook, which he categorically denied. Judge Michael Jarrett accepted his evidence that he was not responsible for the May 2013 post.
But two weeks later, Butler, a former lawyer and shadow assistant minister across three portfolios, appeared on ABC TV’s Q&A program on November 21, and made comments about Thwaites which led him to lodge a defamation action against the MP in the Brisbane Magistrates Court.
In the letter of apology posted on her website, Butler says she accepts that he did not use the phrase alleged and he was the victim of malicious identity theft or a prank.
“In the course of the debate on Q&A, I made comments which were capable of being understood as meaning that you had been responsible for that Facebook post, making you a racist bigot and that, when you denied using those words in court proceedings, you were being dishonest or disingenuous,” the MP wrote.
“There should be no suggestion that you were responsible for the Facebook post, or that your denial was anything other than the truth. Equally, there should be no suggestion that you are racist, or bigoted. I offer you my unreserved apology for enabling those meanings about you to be conveyed, and for the distress and damage to your reputation caused as a consequence.”
Butler says that she has agreed with Thwaites that she will “make a modest payment” to him and contribute to his legal costs.
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