John Pesutto: Victorian Liberal leader to fight three defamation cases at trial

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Victoria’s Liberal opposition leader John Pesutto will fight three linked defamation cases later this year over his response to a controversial rally in Melbourne.

Weeks out from Christmas last year, Victorian MP Moira Deeming launched defamation proceedings against the party leader after she was expelled over her involvement in the “Let Women Speak” tour in March.

On March 18, British activist Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, also known as Posie Parker, and Melbourne woman Angela Jones filed linked cases with the Federal Court.

Each allege Mr Pesutto’s public statements after the rally, which was gatecrashed by a white supremacist group, injured their reputation by associating them with far-right extremists.

Ms Deeming’s case returned before the Federal Court in Melbourne on Thursday, alongside the matters of Ms Keen-Minshull and Ms Jones.

Justice Michael Wheelahan told the court that Ms Deeming’s matter had been set down for trial in September and the new cases would be heard together.

“The trial will be listed for 15 days. That is not an estimate, that is the time the court will make available,” he said.

He warned counsel for each party that experience had shown complex matters with multiple parties often run into timetabling issues, urging them to stick to the schedule.

Central to Ms Deeming’s case is a series of statements Mr Pesutto made after she spoke at the rally that she alleges contains dozens of defamatory imputations.

The alleged imputations include that Ms Deeming supports or sympathises with neo-Nazis, holds white supremacist views herself or is a neo-Nazi.

She had denied any links to white supremacists.

Mr Pesutto has rejected the claims but alleges Ms Deeming failed to distance herself from the rally after it was gatecrashed.

In his statement of defence filed with the court, Mr Pesutto will rely on the legal defences of honest opinion, contextual truth, public interest and qualified privilege.

The anti-trans rights “Let Women Speak” tour across Australia and New Zealand was organised by Ms Keen-Minshull and Ms Jones.

Ms Keen and Ms Jones have accused Mr Pesutto of damaging their reputations in his campaign to expel Ms Deeming.

Mr Pesutto, Ms Deeming, Ms Keen-Minshull and Ms Jones did not attend the hearing on Thursday.

The three-week trial has been set down to begin on September 18 and will return before Justice Wheelahan for case management in July.

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