The Conservative Party’s Australian election strategist, Lynton Crosby, has brought defamation proceedings against a Labour politician in the Federal Court in Australia over an alleged defamatory tweet. The action is being brought by Mr Crosby and his business partner, Mark Textor over a tweet from Mike Kelly, a Federal Labor Politician who is now the Minister for Defence Materiel. He tweets as @MikeKellyMP.
The tweet, which was posted on 1 October 2011 read
“always grate [sic] to hear moralizing from Crosby, Textor, Steal and Gnash. The mob who introduced push polling to Aus.”
“Push polling” is a marketing technique, most commonly employed during political campaigning, in which an individual or organization attempts to influence or alter the view of respondents under the guise of conducting a poll.
The Australian reported last year that in their letter before action Mr Crosby, a former Australian Liberal Party federal director, and Mr Textor said that they were outraged by the tweet because push polling was unethical and illegal and they had never engaged in it.
“If a parliamentary secretary circulates so serious a libel, it can be expected to spread widely on the grapevine … Our clients therefore require an immediate apology and retraction.”
In their statement of claim, the plaintiffs contend the tweet wrongly suggested that as principals of Crosby Textor Research Strategies Results, they had introduced a polling technique that had the deceitful purpose of deliberately influencing voters with material slanted against the opposing candidate. They seek aggravated damages because they say Dr Kelly failed to apologise, used sensational language and published the tweet knowing it was false, or with reckless indifference to its truth or falsity.
It has been reported that some of Dr Kelly’s legal costs are being paid by the New South Wales Labour Party.
In July 2012 the Federal Court rejected an application by Dr Kelly to have the action struck out on the basis that the Federal Court did not have jurisdiction (Crosby v Kelly  FCAFC 96). In February 2013 the High Court rejected his application for special leave to appeal (see the news story here).
Another hearing took place in the Federal Court this week. The Judge was told that the plaintiffs were willing to accept an apology but Dr Kelly’s lawyers indicated that they did not have instructions to offer one. The Judge commented that the case was “heading down the path of a famous defamation“.