I’m not one to support defamation law, and indeed neither should those on the left. It is, for practical purposes, a tool almost exclusively for the rich and powerful, used in many cases to stifle criticism, the McLibel case being one famous example.
In addition, on principle, it’s a bizarre law in that makes it illegal to encourage someone to do something which is completely legal. It’s quite legal to think bad things about someone, even if those things are not true. Whilst we have laws against encouraging illegal behaviour (like inciting violence), it’s nonsensical to have laws against encouraging something we consider an acceptable legal action in our society.
Encouraging someone not to break the law should not be illegal itself.
Indeed the idea that you’re allowed to think things, but no-one is allowed to talk to you about those things, seems frighteningly authoritarian.
But defamation law does exist. And Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has formally began the legal process to use it against Senator Leyonhjelm.
This is the statement that is the subject of that proceeding, from the Sky News “Outsiders” program on the 1st of July, 2018:
This is not a criticism but Sarah is known for liking men. The rumours about her in parliament house are well known.
And that’s it.
What Senator Leyonhjelm has directly claimed here is that Senator Hanson-Young is heterosexual, and there are unspecified rumours about her.
At most, one could infer that, as a single, unmarried woman, she partakes in sex with men.
Is that a defamatory statement? Does a woman, not in a long term relationship, having sex with men, imply that woman is of bad character?
That is what Senator Hanson-Young is encouraging the court to declare.
In effect, Senator Hanson-Young wants the courts to slut-shame, to declare that having sex outside the context of a long-term committed relationship is a sign of bad character, and hence making that declaration without evidence is defamatory.
Consider what the precedent of this decision will be. Currently, the workplace tribunals around Australia would come down on an employer who either refused to hire or fired a woman on the basis of her personal sexual relationships.
But this decision, if handed down in Senator Hanson-Young’s favour, would set a precedent that women having multiple sexual partners is a sign of bad character, so much so that making such a claim is defamatory.
Lets be very clear, the Greens Senator Hanson-Young is seeking to enforce a 1950s style view of sexual propriety on Australian women, through the force of law.
Senator Leyonhjelm quite clearly stated having sex outside of marriage is not a criticism. And it is not a criticism.
Unlike Senator Hanson-Young, who wants to push women back 60 years, my hope is the courts reject her slut-shaming precedent, and give a ruling that reflects the vast majority of modern Australian’s views that people’s personal choices in their sex lives is not sign of bad character or otherwise to be despised.