Mark McGowan defends actions after court rules he and Clive Palmer to pay defamation damages

West Australian Premier Mark McGowan has defended his actions after a Federal Court judge ruled today both he and businessman Clive Palmer defamed each other.

Following the judgement handed down by Justice Michael Lee on Tuesday, McGowan fronted the media and said he accepted the court’s judgement but defended his actions.

“I have always acted in the public interest and will continue to do so,” he said.

WA Premier Mark McGowan
WA Premier Mark McGowan says he accepts the court’s judgement. (9News)

“I accept the judgement and I did what I had to do to protect the state.

“I will go to my grave proud of what we did.”

In the judgement hearing on Tuesday, Lee found both defences were unsuccessful and said the “game has not been worth the candle”.

“These proceedings have not only involved considerable expenditure by Mr Palmer and the taxpayers of Western Australia but have also consumed considerable resources of the Commonwealth and importantly diverted court time from resolving controversies of real importance,” Lee said.

Lee has awarded Palmer the amount of $5000 in damages.

“I’m required there is an appropriate and rational relationship between the harm sustained which is very minor and the damages awarded which should as a consequence be very minor,” he said.

Lee also decided McGowan would be awarded $20,000 in damages.

“The evidence establishes the inconsequential impact of the publications upon Mr McGowan’s reputation. It is more likely Mr McGowan’s reputation was enhanced,” Lee said.

“As Mr McGowan accepted Mr Palmer was someone with whom Mr McGowan was happy to have a blue with.

“Although his damage to reputation was non-existent Mr McGowan’s evidence to an aspect of the subjective hurt was compelling.”

Clive Palmer and Mark McGowan
A Federal Court judge has delivered his long-awaited verdict in the defamation trial between Clive Palmer and West Australian Premier Mark McGowan. (Getty, Alex Ellinghausen)

Palmer sued the WA premier in 2020, claiming “vicious” public comments – including labelling the mining billionaire an enemy of the state – had damaged his reputation.

The Queensland businessman had sought aggravated damages which would allow for a payout above the $432,500 cap.

He accused the Labor premier of being consumed by malice and seeking to “blacken his name at every opportunity”.

McGowan, who counter-sued Palmer for defamation, made his own appeal for aggravated damages.

The premier claimed qualified privilege as a defence. It requires proof there was a legal, social or moral duty for him to say those things.

Palmer defended various comments he made on the basis of qualified privilege, and substantial and contextual truth.

Palmer is seeking aggravated damages. (Matt Dennien)

At the trial’s conclusion in April, Lee said it was possible neither side would be able to make out any defences.

He flagged each man could receive a nominal damages sum, describing them as political combatants with entrenched reputations.

“There are people who love them, people who hate them,” Lee said.

“The publications themselves are, it seems to me, highly unlikely to change very settled views about these men.”

The defamation bid is one of several legal challenges Palmer has pursued against the WA premier, including a failed bid in the High Court to have the state’s coronavirus-related hard border closure deemed unconstitutional.

It emerged in 2020 that Palmer was seeking up to $30 billion in damages over a 2012 decision by the former Liberal state government not to assess his proposed Balmoral South iron ore project.

WA Premier Mark McGowan says he has no plans to re-introduce COVID-19 restrictions at this stage.
McGowan, who is counter-suing Palmer for defamation, has made his own appeal for aggravated damages. (Flavio Brancaleone)

The McGowan government subsequently rushed through extraordinary legislation to prevent Palmer from suing the state.

In his evidence, Palmer said he was scared because provisions in the legislation protected the government from criminal prosecution.

Referring to the fictional character James Bond and his “licence to kill”, Palmer told the court: “I didn’t know what the limits might be.”

Any suggestion Palmer had a genuine fear for his physical safety was “inherently incredible”, McGowan’s lawyers said.

In private text messages made public during the trial, McGowan described Palmer as “the worst Australian who’s not in jail”.

His attorney-general John Quigley privately labelled Palmer a “big fat liar”.

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