Image copyright Image caption Malcolm Turnbull (left) with Peter Dutton (right)
Australia’s Attorney-General has been ordered to pay damages after he was sued for defamation over a tweet.
Malcolm Turnbull’s reply to a row over a refugee policy retweeted by prime minister Peter Dutton in May 2016 contained comments said to be false.
The senator’s lawyer, Michael Stutchbury, said the case was a landmark victory for a tweet’s reputation.
A judgment was on Thursday in the High Court in Canberra.
Mr Turnbull had to pay the lawyer and a charity, Save the Children, A$40,000 (US$29,000).
The Senator, Mitch Fifield, was not present at the ruling by the High Court’s full bench.
“We have to come to terms with the fact that what’s being said on social media has become untrustworthy, so you need to have enforceable standards,” Mr Stutchbury told reporters.
“These days, with social media, what you say could be seen to be damaging overnight.”
The case hinged on whether comments made in response to a backbench MP’s concerns about the immigration policy should be protected by the same speech codes as official statements.
In that case, Mr Dutton retweeted a cartoon drawing by cartoonist Craig McLachlan, including the image of a woman in a revealing nightie holding two packets of cigarettes with the comment: “Consider the source.”
It followed a row over the government’s plan to turn back the boats.
Mr Dutton’s response to the senator brought the defamation suit.
This particular case was brought by Centre of Independent Journalism, an advocacy group for free expression.
An earlier trial, which was tried on Mr Turnbull’s behalf, failed.
“A social media user has brought a defamation action against the official Twitter account of the Attorney-General, even though the comments were made by a private individual who simply retweeted a cartoon from a publication,” High Court Justice Stephen Gageler said in July.
Mr Turnbull is facing a second libel case, being brought by Pauline Hanson, a far-right, populist MP.
Her lawyers are seeking more than A$500,000 in damages for what they say was a “libellous” and “false” tweet in 2014.