Treasurer Joe Hockey has declined to comment outside a defamation hearing against Fairfax Media at the Federal Court in Sydney.
Mr Hockey is claiming a series of newspaper articles damaged his reputation last year, including one in May that had the headline ‘Treasurer for sale’.
At the time, Mr Hockey’s office released a statement saying: “Any suggestion that the Treasurer is for sale is offensive and repugnant.”
The Treasurer is taking legal action against The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Canberra Times and their online services.
The articles in the Sydney Morning Herald reported a Liberal Party fundraising body, called the North Sydney Forum (NSF), was not fully disclosing its activities to the electoral funding authorities.
Mr Hockey’s lawyer, Bruce McClintock SC, told the court his client had “a spotless reputation for integrity and no-one has ever suggested that he has been for sale before”.
Mr McClintock said the article, banners outside newsagents and Twitter messages represented “a clear allegation of corruption”.
“There is no innocent construction for those words, ‘Treasurer Hockey for sale’,” he said.
He said even the former prime minister Malcolm Fraser sent a message on social media about the articles.
“Hundreds of thousands perhaps thought the Herald, The Age and the Canberra Times were asserting that my client is corrupt,” Mr McClintock said.
Mr Hockey and his wife sat quietly in court during proceedings, which detailed texts and emails between newspaper editors, including one from The Sydney Morning Herald editor in chief Darren Goodsir, in May 2014.
“I have long dreamed of a headline ‘Sloppy Joe’,” the email said.
“I think we’re not far off or perhaps more serious than that.”
Mr Hockey is expected to be cross-examined later on Monday.
The case is set down for two weeks but Mr Hockey’s lawyer told the court the matter may be concluded by next Monday or Tuesday.
The case continues in Sydney.