Peter Dutton’s threatening email to sue me for defamation over a single tweet caught me by surprise in April last year when I was in a hospital waiting to get some results from my surgeon. I had not shared my email address with his solicitor.
My life has been absolute hell ever since.
I don’t remember much of what my surgeon told me that day. All I could think about was this concerns notice I got from who is now the Liberal leader. What did it mean? How would I fight this? I didn’t have the funds.
This was a cabinet minister, a very wealthy and powerful man who has parliamentary privilege and who wants to be prime minister, suing me – an unemployed refugee advocate – over a single six-word deleted tweet which linked to a news report.
Thankfully, I was able to crowdfund for my legal fees on Chuffed so I could properly defend the claim.
Since the news broke of Dutton suing me, the number of my Twitter followers increased. I was lucky to have a modest following online and to be able to use my small platform to crowdfund. This is an opportunity not afforded to everyone. Wealth or popularity shouldn’t determine our access to legal representation.
Unfortunately, in addition to the support and solidarity, I’ve also been harassed by trolls online relentlessly since Dutton initiated the litigation against me. I’ve received racist, Islamophobic and homophobic messages online. I’ve had far-right people harassing me and my family, demanding I should be deported.
One particularly concerning instance of harassment I experienced was by a white supremacist who was fixated on me and my family for a number of months. I was quite concerned for my safety and my family’s safety and reported the matter to the police. It was eventually referred to the security and counter-terrorism command for investigation.
I’ve also received hate mail at my home.
It has taken a tremendous toll on my mental health. I have depression, anxiety and PTSD. There’ve been days when I couldn’t get out of bed. Sadly, there’ve also been a few times during the past year and a half when I’ve been suicidal.
I haven’t disclosed this previously but I am also a rape survivor so the subject matter of the litigation has been very triggering and traumatising for me. A number of years ago, I was raped by a man I had met on a dating app. This is another reason why I was so determined to fight this case. I’m speaking up now because the bravery of a number of survivors in recent years has helped me to find my voice and make some noise.
I hope my disclosure might help other survivors to do the same.
I’ve been unable to work due to these health issues. I’ve incurred huge debts and bills. It’s been incredibly difficult to get appropriate mental healthcare, even when disclosing suicidality. It’s very expensive and wait lists are months long. Mental healthcare should be free for all, properly resourced and readily accessible. It’s a tragedy that it is not.
When I have tried to find work, I’ve been knocked back from jobs because employers have raised concerns about the federal court case and the potential of a high court case.
Eventually on the legal front, the full court of the federal court vindicated me in May this year after it found on appeal that I did not defame Dutton. I was victorious. However, this was still not the end of the matter.
Dutton then argued that even though I won, he shouldn’t have to pay my legal fees because I crowdfunded.
It’s worth noting that in October last year he proposed that taxpayers should fund MPs’ defamation cases as a “workplace entitlement”.
In June, after my appeal win, Dutton filed an application for special leave to appeal that decision in the high court. During this time, as the new opposition leader, Dutton had launched a PR campaign to present himself as a softer, kinder, gentler Dutton. This was not the Dutton I knew.
I’ve now settled the matter with Dutton. Last month, he discontinued the special leave application in the high court. The full court stamped orders finalising the proceedings.
The ultimate outcome was that I was vindicated by the full court of the federal court, which found that I did not defame him. All the money raised by crowdfunding went to my legal team. None of that money went to Dutton.
I had hoped to get costs from him, which I had committed to donate to charities.
Law surrounding crowdfunding is still undecided and ultimately I chose to settle the matter rather than risk losing and getting a costs order against me or end up in further litigation in the high court, which would be protracted and very expensive. I don’t think I would have survived that.
While I won my appeal, I will be dealing with the personal impacts and trying to rebuild my life for a long time to come. This will not be a quick and easy fix. It will take a lot of time and work.
It is an extraordinary experience to be sued for defamation by someone who has built his political career off being a political head kicker, a hard man of the right, presiding over a brutal detention system, vilifying Lebanese Muslim immigrants, fear-mongering about “African gang violence” in Melbourne, attacking the media and advocates, making jokes about rising sea levels in the Pacific Islands nations and boycotting the apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008.
Despite all this, Dutton claimed my single deleted tweet had hurt his feelings.
The increasing trend of politicians suing for defamation, particularly those considered to be free-speech warriors, raises genuine concerns about freedom of speech. While there must be some limits to that freedom, particularly around hate speech, which must never be tolerated, politicians should expect to be subject to adverse opinions.
A politician using defamation law to stifle expression of public opinion is cause for real concern.
Politicians put themselves forward for public scrutiny. They should expect to be judged on their actions, their policies, their commentary, their politics – not a PR makeover stunt that asks Australians to ignore their previous decades-long history in public life.
I may have been one of the first ordinary citizens to be sued for defamation by a politician but I doubt I will be the last. This could happen to anyone.
• In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org