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Liberal leader’s public apology after defamation suits

British activist Kellie-Jay Keen said Pesutto's apology is 'an amazing step' for Australian women

British activist Kellie-Jay Keen said Pesutto's apology is 'an amazing step' for Australian women Photo: AAP

Victoria’s opposition leader has issued a public apology after settling two high-profile defamation cases brought against him by activists.

British activist Kellie-Jay Keen and Australian Angela Jones, along with former Liberal MP Moira Deeming, each sued John Pesutto in the Federal Court, claiming he damaged their reputations following a March 2023 rally.

The Let Women Speak event was gatecrashed by a group of masked men who performed Nazi salutes.

Deeming, Keen and Jones claimed Pesutto defamed them by suggesting in the aftermath they were associated with far-right extremists including neo-Nazis.

Pesutto issued a formal apology to Keen and Jones on Friday morning.

“I have never believed or intended to assert that Kellie-Jay Keen and Angela Jones are Neo-Nazis,” he wrote in a statement.

“I agree with them that genuine community concerns regarding women’s safety and access to single-sex spaces, services and sport warrant meaningful public discussion.

“My comments may have been misunderstood as conveying that I believed this to be the case, I apologise for any hurt, distress or harm that has occurred.”

Keen said she “graciously” accepted Pesutto’s apology in a statement posted to YouTube.

“It’s such an amazing step for Australian women that today, more than yesterday, they are a little safer speaking about the unthinkable things that are happening to them,” she said.

“I think what this apology will do is it will give women just a morsel of comfort that actually they do have a right to speak about this quasi-religious authoritarian cult known as transgenderism.”

Jones also thanked Pesutto for his apology in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

“I hope we are entering a political climate where women can advocate for the reinstatement of our sex based human rights, and sex specific safeguarding, equitably and without misrepresentation or intimidation,” she wrote.

Katherine Deves from Alexander Rashidi Lawyers, who represented both women, said they were pleased at the “favourable” outcome.

“They look forward to moving on with their lives and continuing their fight for women’s sex-based rights,” Deves told AAP.

The Liberal leader previously said he would vigorously contest all three defamation proceedings.

Now his only defamation fight remaining is against Deeming and is scheduled to go to trial in the Federal Court in September.

The first-term MP was expelled from the parliamentary Liberal Party after taking part in the Let Women Speak rally in March.

Deeming issued several defamation concerns notices to Pesutto, alleging he publicly accused her of being a Nazi sympathiser and used the claim to bully and threaten her with expulsion.

Pesutto denies he accused the now-independent MP of being a Nazi or having Nazi sympathies.

– AAP

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