Joe Hockey is suing Fairfax for a series of articles, one of which said he was a “Treasurer for Sale”.
Treasurer Joe Hockey could not allow “scurrilous and false allegations about corruption” reported by Fairfax Media to remain unchallenged, his lawyers have told the opening of a defamation trial.
Mr Hockey says Fairfax Media defamed him in a series of articles in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times about his relationship with a Liberal Party fundraising body the North Sydney Forum, published on May 5, 2014.
His barrister, Bruce McClintock, SC, told the Federal Court Mr Hockey’s case is that Fairfax Media editors were motivated to publish “extraordinarily serious allegations” that they “knew were false” because they had to publish a correction to an earlier article about Mr Hockey.
“It was an act of petty spite,” Mr McClintock said. In that article, published on March 21, 2014, the papers said Mr Hockey repaid money to Australian Water Holdings, a company that has been the subject of an investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
In fact it was the North Sydney Forum that repaid the money. The papers ran an apology the following day. Subsequent emails and text messages between Fairfax Media editors and political reporters show the decision to publish the “Treasurer for Sale” series of articles was a “calculated plan” written to “exact revenge”, Mr McClintock said.
In a series of text messages, Herald editor-in-chief Darren Goodsir told The Age editor-in-chief Andrew Holden that he was angry at being contacted at 2.15am by Mr Hockey’s staff.
“They have a f—ing hide,” he said. “I feel pissed off they called me so early.”
Holden replied: “The simplest approach is to dig into NSF… in that story you can run Hockey’s claim he knew nothing … beyond that, f— him.
“Amazing they freeze us out and then think they have the relationship that allows them to call in the middle of the night.”
Goodsir said: “Are we not better to have a red hot go at the issue next week, and really go for it … after the day we’ve had, I ain’t going to run this – but am more than keen to develop a North Sydney Forum plan for next week.”
He instructed Herald state political editor Sean Nicholls to dig into the North Sydney Forum.
On March 27, Goodsir wrote: “F—ing Brilliant … given what Andrew and I endured last week with Hockey, I want to have this nailed to the cross in more ways than one … keep digging Sean… I have long dreamed (well, only since last Friday), of a headline that screams: Sloppy Joe! I think we are not far off, but perhaps even more serious than that.”