When it came to awarding defamation damages to Sophie Mirabella, Judge Michael Macnamara paid close attention to the payout to another high profile Australian in Rebel Wilson.
The $4.56 million awarded to Wilson last year was the largest payout for a defamation damages bill in Australian legal history, after the Supreme Court found Bauer Media depicted Wilson as a serial liar.
The majority of her payout was for lost opportunities for movie roles, with $650,000 for general damages.
Mrs Mirabella was this week awarded $175,000 in general damages after the Benalla Ensign published a story falsely claiming she pushed Indi MP Cathy McGowan during the 2016 election campaign.
It was the Ensign’s barrister David Gilbertson who, during the Wangaratta County Court trial, referred Judge Macnamara to the comments of Judge John Dixon in the Wilson case.
References to the “grapevine effect”, where defamatory statements are often re-reported by other media, were a central part of both high profile cases.
In his judgement in the Wilson case, Judge Dixon called it an “ordinary function of human nature”.
“It is precisely because the ‘real’ damage cannot be ascertained and established that damages are at large. It is often impossible to track the scandal and to know what quarters the poison may reach,” he said.
In the judgement on Mrs Mirabella’s case, Judge Macnamara said the grapevine effect was on social media.
His comments detailed some of the Twitter abuse, which was used as evidence in the trial, but was not allowed to be read out in court.
Andy13 tweeted “Out of my way! – Benalla …. Sophie Mirabella is a bully!”, P McGee tweeted, “Meanwhile in Indi Sophie Mirabella is quietly pondering who she can push over next” and A Magickeagle999 tweeted, “THE PUSHINATOR – `I Won’t Be Back’”.
Judge Macnamara ruled the Ensign had responsibility for these tweets.
“The defamatory statement provided the platform from which the vitriol in these tweets could be hurled at Mrs Mirabella,” he said.
The defamatory statement provided the platform from which the vitriol in these tweets could be hurled at Mrs Mirabella.Judge Michael Macnamara
Lawyers for Mrs Mirabella have applied for legal costs to also be paid by the Ensign, which was opposed and will be debated in Melbourne County Court on Thursday.