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 allegationsÂ about corruption” reported by Fairfax Media to remain unchallenged,Â 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 MorningÂ Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times about his relationship withÂ a Liberal Party fundraising body the North Sydney Forum, published on May 5, 2014.
His barrister, Bruce McClintock, SC, told the Federal Court MrÂ Hockey’s case is that Fairfax Media editors were motivated to publishÂ “extraordinarily serious allegations” that they “knew were false”Â because they had to publish a correction to an earlier article aboutÂ Mr Hockey.
“It was an act of petty spite,” Mr McClintock said. In that article, published on March 21, 2014, the papers said MrÂ Hockey repaid money to Australian Water Holdings, a company that hasÂ been the subject of an investigation by the Independent CommissionÂ Against Corruption.
In fact it was the North Sydney Forum that repaidÂ the money. The papers ran an apology the following day. Subsequent emails and text messages between Fairfax Media editors andÂ political reporters show the decision to publish the “Treasurer for Sale”Â series of articles was a “calculated plan” written to “exactÂ revenge”, Mr McClintock said.
In a series of text messages, Herald editor-in-chief Darren GoodsirÂ told The Age editor-in-chief Andrew Holden that he was angry at beingÂ contacted at 2.15am by Mr Hockey’s staff.
“They have a f—ing hide,” he said. “I feel pissed off they called meÂ so early.”
Holden replied: “The simplest approach is to dig into NSFâ€¦ in thatÂ story you can run Hockey’s claim he knew nothing â€¦ beyond that, f—Â him.
“Amazing they freeze us out and then think they have the relationshipÂ 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 issueÂ next week, and really go for it â€¦ after the day we’ve had, I ain’tÂ going to run this â€“ but am more than keen to develop a North SydneyÂ Forum plan for next week.”
He instructed Herald state political editor Sean Nicholls to dig intoÂ the North Sydney Forum.
On March 27, Goodsir wrote: “F—ing Brilliant â€¦ given whatÂ Andrew and I endured last week with Hockey, I want to have this nailedÂ to the cross in more ways than one â€¦ keep digging Seanâ€¦ I have longÂ dreamed (well, only since last Friday), of a headline that screams:Â Sloppy Joe! I think we are not far off, but perhaps even more seriousÂ than that.”