Socialist councillor Rob Pyne: 'I have been silenced'

June 12, 2021
Rob Pyne supporting a local food bank in Cairns. Photo: supplied

Socialist councillor and activist Rob Pyne has been silenced by a Brisbane district court.

The court issued an injunction on June 11 that within 48 hours Pyne take down several blog posts and YouTube videos he produced about free speech and that he refrain from commenting publicly about a defamation allegation against Pyne and another person ahead of an August trial.

This injunction fell short of a finding Pyne was in contempt of court, as the conservative head of the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) Greg Hallam had called for.

The defamation proceeding was brought by Hallam in 2017 when Pyne was a member of the Queensland parliament.

As a Labor-turned-independent MP, Pyne highlighted widespread corruption within local government and the inadequate mechanisms for tackling it.

Arguably, his claims were vindicated in 2018 when Ipswich Council was sacked for corruption and Logan Mayor Luke Smith was charged with fraud.

The Crime and Corruption Commission made a number of recommendations, including a ban on developer donations to local councillors and the state government established a new Office of the Independent Assessor to monitor local government.

As part of his campaign to stop corruption at the local government level, Pyne shared a cartoon on his Facebook page.

Hallam's defamation allegation claimed that the cartoon "depict[ed] a creature whose body bears a striking resemblance to the well-known popular culture figure fictional character from the Star Wars movie franchise, Jabba the Hutt, but whose Jabba the Hutt-style head bears a passable likeness to Mr Hallam’s appearance".

Hallam wants $500,000 damages from Pyne, claiming the Facebook post "greatly injured ... his credit and reputation". If awarded, this amount would bankrupt Pyne who is now a member of the Cairns Council. It would mean he could no longer serve on the council and would be unable to run for office in the future.

Hallam has announced he will retire in November.

The LGAQ is funding Hallam's court proceedings.

The injunction states that the "initial video is by itself relatively innocuous" and tells of "the emotional effect of being sued for defamation" including "a number of statements which might cause a reader to sympathise with the defendant’s particular predicament".

The injunction notes that Pyne stated he intends to "keep speaking up" because he "believe[s] in freedom of speech".

The document specifies that the court orders are given "not ... to restrain a defamatory publication" but, in effect, to ensure the jury pool in the Cairns community is not influenced prior to trial.

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