Pauline Hanson overturns $250k defamation loss

Pauline Hanson's comments were a rhetorical device to criticise a Greens senator, her lawyer said.

Pauline Hanson's comments were a rhetorical device to criticise a Greens senator, her lawyer said. Photo: AAP

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson will not have to pay $250,000 in defamation damages after an appeals court found her claims an ex-senator sexually abused his staff were substantially true.

Senator Hanson was ordered to pay the sum plus legal costs in October when a Federal Court judge declared her comments on Nine’s Today program in March 2019 were “seriously damaging” to Brian Burston’s reputation.

At the time, Senator Hanson said One Nation chief of staff James Ashby had been trying to shed light on “sexual harassment and abuse” of a female staffer in Mr Burston’s parliamentary office.

But findings that the One Nation matriarch defamed the party’s former senator by incorrectly saying he sexually abused a female colleague were thrown out by the full court on Wednesday after her successful appeal.

“The evidence established that Mr Burston repeatedly and on an ongoing basis inflicted non-consensual, unwanted and unwelcome verbal and physical sexual behaviour on (two female staffers),” the court’s three-judge panel unanimously ruled.

In his earlier judgment, Justice Robert Bromwich was scathing towards Mr Burston’s general behaviour, calling it “objectively wrong and inappropriate”.

The ex-senator’s conduct included telling one female staffer, “You probably just need a good f***.”

During the seven-day defamation trial, the court heard Mr Burston cupped the face of another staffer before giving her a “long, hard kiss” and shoved $100 between her breasts on a separate occasion.

The full court found the two employees endured a “profoundly unbearable workplace”, where they were exposed to repeated and ongoing sexualised comments and physical touching.

“The conduct was degrading and humiliating,” the court said.

The three judges also found Senator Hanson did not defame Mr Burston by claiming he assaulted Mr Ashby without provocation in Parliament House.

The ex-senator was ordered to pay the One Nation leader’s legal costs for the defamation case and appeal.

Senator Hanson filed a counter-suit in the Federal Court in November 2020 claiming Mr Burston’s defamation case and sexual harassment allegations against her amounted to discrimination.

That case is still ongoing.


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