Dutton, Barilaro and the right’s defamation culture war

Graphic: Isaac Nellist

It seems to have become flavour of the month for politicians to sue for defamation.

Former Attorney-General Christian Porter attempted to sue the ABC for reporting on and Defence Minister Peter Dutton is suing refugee activist that said he is a “rape apologist”.

The latest target of the Coalition’s legal wrath is YouTube comedian Jordan Shanks — aka FriendlyJordies — who is being sued by NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro.

, in collaboration with , did an exposé on the lucrative sale of a Queanbeyan property to Barilaro’s family. The report raises serious questions and suggests, at the very least, unethical if not illegal activity by the family.

Shanks has also accused Barilaro of corruption, blackmail and perjury.

Shanks “lowbrow” humour is, unfortunately, reactionary, relying heavily on fat-shaming, prejudice and profanity to land its blows. He acts for and has .

However, Barilaro’s legal threats — and the June 14 arrest of Shanks’ producer Kristo Langker — amount to undue harassment of social critics by the powerful.

Judging by ' account, Langker’s arrest was heavy-handed and executed by the NSW Police’s little-known and Orwellian-named .

Dutton’s legal action against Bazzi exemplifies the right’s culture wars against people daring to criticise those in power.

Bazzi has chosen to stand up to Dutton’s bullying behaviour, garnering support from activists and politicians. A , organised by the Greens MLC David Shoebridge, has raised $150,000 for Bazzi’s legal fees.

On June 16, a by August 31, saying Dutton’s defamation case over a tweet calling him a “rape apologist” could be settled pre-trial, if they were sensible.

Greens Senator , who described Dutton in a similar way in a tweet in February, was also threatened and issued an apology in March.

Being a rape apologist is not just about defending rapists: it is also about propping up a culture and system that allows rape and sexual assault to persist. From this point of view, the Duttons of this world certainly qualify.

Dutton didn’t have a problem describing after she reported on former minister Jamie Briggs’ inappropriate conduct.

Dutton is also on the record saying that refugees who had been raped on Nauru were “” to receive medical treatment and stay in Australia.

Further, he dismissed former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins’ rape allegations against another Liberal staffer as “”.

Porter’s failed attempt to sue the ABC and Four Corners’ reporter Louise Milligan following the airing of a historic rape allegation against him was another attempt to silence critics.

The ABC is certainly in a stronger position than an ordinary dissenting citizen, but it is still under sustained assault from the right. Porter’s claim of victory, after dropping his defamation case, was pure aimed at putting the boot into the ABC.

In yet another example of the culture wars, the head of the Local Government Association of Queensland Greg Hallam is over an allegedly defamatory anti-corruption cartoon Pyne shared on his Facebook page.

Feminist lawyer Jocelynne Scutt in March that defamation is “based on notions of superior power and status”. Traditionally, she said, it is about protecting the “reputations of important or powerful people”.

The current surge of defamation actions by apparently thin-skinned politicians is another illustration of the political crisis facing the capitalist elite today.

They know that their pro-billionaire policies are unpopular — even satirical videos or sharp tweets can find a resonance — and they want to stifle dissent.

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