Palmer, McGowan ordered to pay damages
A judge has found West Australian Premier Mark McGowan and billionaire Clive Palmer defamed each other, describing their trial as a waste of the Federal Court's resources.
Justice Michael Lee on Tuesday found neither man had valid defences for a series of defamatory public statements in 2020, when they feuded over WA's COVID-19 response and a damages claim involving one of Mr Palmer's mining projects.
He ordered Mr Palmer to pay $20,000 to WA's Labor premier, with both parties' costs to be determined at a hearing next week.
Mr McGowan was ordered to pay $5000 to Mr Palmer.
Justice Lee noted there was a "glaring disproportion" between the damages awarded and the considerable cost of the legal proceedings to both Mr Palmer and WA taxpayers who are set to foot the bill for the premier's involvement.
"The game has not been worth the candle," Justice Lee said.
Given court resources were stretched, political figures should ideally only sue for defamation if there was "real reputational damage and significant hurt to feelings", he added.
Mr Palmer in 2020 sued Mr McGowan, claiming the premier's public comments - including labelling him an "enemy of the state" - had damaged his reputation.
The Queensland businessman sought aggravated damages, accusing Mr McGowan of seeking to "blacken his name at every opportunity".
But Justice Lee found while the insults against Mr Palmer could not be considered trivial, they ultimately caused very little damage to his reputation.
Mr McGowan, who counter-sued for defamation, had also sought aggravated damages.
Justice Lee accepted the premier had suffered hurt feelings but said Mr Palmer's attacks on him, including claims he had acted corruptly, had probably only enhanced his reputation and popularity within his home state.
He described Mr McGowan as generally an impressive witness but one who had at times evaded directly answering questions.
The judge was more critical of Mr Palmer's testimony, saying it appeared the billionaire had been willing to "fashion his evidence" to best suit his case.
It emerged in 2020 that Mr 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.
The McGowan government subsequently rushed through extraordinary legislation to prevent Mr Palmer suing the state.
In his evidence, Mr Palmer - whose bid to bring down WA's hard borders was rejected by the High Court in 2020 - 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", Mr Palmer told the court: "I didn't know what the limits might be."
Justice Lee described this claim as being so outlandish that it undermined Mr Palmer's entire testimony.
The judge was also critical of WA attorney-general John Quigley, who was recalled to give evidence a second time after making errors in his initial testimony.
Justice Lee described Mr Quigley's evidence as "confused and confusing" but stopped short of calling him a dishonest witness.
Mr McGowan on Tuesday said he stood by Mr Quigley and "would go to my grave proud" of the anti-Palmer legislation.
"I didn't want to be put in this position but everything I have done has been an attempt to protect the interests of Western Australia," he told reporters.
Mr Palmer said Justice Lee's findings showed the premier and attorney-general had "plotted between themselves with late night texts".
"It is highly disturbing that this is how the WA government acts," Mr Palmer said in a statement.
In private text messages revealed during the trial, Mr McGowan described Mr Palmer as "the worst Australian who's not in jail".
Mr Quigley privately labelled Mr Palmer a "big fat liar".
The parties will return to court on August 11 to deal with costs arising from the proceedings.
© AAP 2022