News National Joe Hockey hit with huge legal bill

Joe Hockey hit with huge legal bill

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The Federal Treasurer says he does not regret taking legal action against Fairfax Media, despite losing his bid to have the media organisation cover the costs of his defamation suit.

In June, Mr Hockey won a Federal Court defamation case against Fairfax and was awarded $200,000 in damages.

The court examined whether Mr Hockey’s reputation was damaged by a series of reports last year from Fairfax, including an article headlined “Treasurer for sale”.

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Justice Richard White found that a poster headline and tweets reading “Treasurer for sale” were defamatory.

All other claims made by Mr Hockey were dismissed.

In the Federal Court on Wednesday, Justice White ordered that Fairfax pay no more than 15 per cent of Mr Hockey’s recoverable costs.

“It is plain that Mr Hockey is not entitled to his costs in full against SMH [the Sydney Morning Herald] and The Age as in those proceedings he failed on the matters which were the real core of his claim,” he said.

The decision means Mr Hockey’s legal bill is expected to be far in excess of the $200,000 he was awarded.

A source close to the case dismissed speculation Fairfax and Mr Hockey each incurred more than $1 million in legal bills.

However, the bill for both parties combined is expected to top $1 million.

If that is the case, Mr Hockey would net $250,000 from Fairfax in damages and costs but face a legal bill of about $500,000.

Damage far greater for Fairfax: Hockey

Mr Hockey said in a statement that he did not regret taking the action.

“After nearly 20 years in public life I took this action to stand up to malicious people intent on vilifying Australians who choose to serve in public office to make their country a better place,” he said.

“Whilst the cost of this action has been considerable for me, my family and friends, it has been far greater for Fairfax Media.”

Justice White said had Mr Hockey pursued a more limited claim, the trial would have been shorter and the legal costs lower.

“It is improbable that a trial concerning only the SMH poster and the two tweets of The Age would have occupied seven days,” he said.

Fairfax said in a statement that the costs awarded were “a fair reflection of the outcome of the proceedings”.

The reports, published in newspapers including The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age and online on May 5, 2014, related to Mr Hockey’s involvement with Liberal Party fundraising group the North Sydney Forum (NSF).

Justice White had found that Fairfax Media may have been able to rely on a defence of qualified privilege to justify the headline and tweets, however this defence was not available because the headline was motivated by “malice”.

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