The ABC will pay Liberal MP Andrew Laming $79,000 and costs to settle a legal claim over tweets by investigative journalist Louise Milligan.
The federal member for Bowman launched legal action in June against the Melbourne journalist after he claimed she failed to apologise for a tweet linking him to upskirting and an investigation into Canberra’s workplace culture.
It followed reports into Dr Laming’s behaviour, including that he had photographed a woman from behind as she bent over to put items in a fridge.
The Queenslander had defended the photograph, denying it was upskirting or more than than a joke and stating police had found no evidence of a criminal offence.
After the reports into the photograph and allegations he harassed two other women in March, Dr Laming went on a month of paid medical leave for counselling and empathy training.
He has sought retractions and apologies in recent months about the upskirting allegations from numerous public figures.
The journalist’s case was the only one to make it to court.
Dr Laming said he was “extremely pleased” by the outcome but his case highlighted how a false allegation could be disseminated quickly and widely across social media by people with no direct or personal knowledge of what actually happened.
“It is regrettable that so many people including so-called investigative journalists, media personalities and political identities use social media to make unwarranted attacks of this nature,” the ophthalmologist said in a statement.
The ABC said resolving the claim avoided a potentially protracted and costly legal action.
Milligan’s original posts were made “in good faith” but one contained an honest error that had been widely reported by other outlets and politicians, it said.
Her deletion of the tweets in June was followed by a “substantial statement correcting the record”.
“As previously stated, the ABC decided to pay Ms Milligan’s costs in this matter, a decision arising from particular and exceptional circumstances,” a spokeswoman for the broadcaster said.
Dr Laming was represented by Rebekah Giles, whose clients include former attorney-general Christian Porter and former federal Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins.
Milligan tweeted in March that Dr Laming was one of the names “volunteered to me in off the record conversation with women staffers & politicians” when she was researching for Inside the Canberra Bubble – a November 2020 Four Corners episode purported to unveil the culture towards women in Parliament House.
A tweet on April 15 listed “Laming upskirts” along with references to Brittany Higgins, Christine Holgate and a dance troupe that twerked at a navy event.
Milligan deleted the tweets in June and posted a statement explaining she hadn’t included Dr Laming’s denials in a “broader Twitter discussion about gender and politics”.
She urged readers to read a linked news article.
The statement was “self-serving” and had a “sensational, accusatory and spiteful tone”, Dr Laming said, aggravating his hurt.
The initial posts had carried meanings that he was such a danger to women he should leave parliament immediately, his claim stated.
Evan Mulholland, ABC critic and communications director at right-wing think-tank Institute of Public Affairs, said it was “absolutely crackers” that taxpayers were footing the bill when Milligan hadn’t been working on a story about Dr Laming.