15 June, 2024
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‘Crass, vulgar’ Latham tweet did not target MP: lawyer

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An offensive tweet from Mark Latham did not target an independent Sydney MP and only drew comments from homophobes who already hated the openly gay politician, a court has been told.

Alex Greenwich has sued the former NSW One Nation leader for defamation in the Federal Court over a tweet sent in March 2023, days after the state election.

Mr Latham’s explicit tweet describing a sex act was in response to an earlier post quoting the state MP describing him as a “disgusting human being”.

Alex Greenwich (centre) leaves the Federal Court
 Mr Greenwich said the tweet caused him anxiety, panic attacks and fear of large public gatherings. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS 

Mr Greenwich claims Mr Latham’s post defamed him by saying he engaged in disgusting sexual acts and was not fit to be a politician.

But on Thursday, Latham’s barrister Kieran Smark SC rejected this.

“It is offensive and crass and vulgar, but we’ll have to grapple with it all,” he told Justice David O’Callaghan.

“Mr Latham’s tweet may have wounded Mr Greenwich, but it didn’t wound his reputation.”

He said the post did not target the independent MP specifically but was instead about homosexual men having sex and was clearly the One Nation leader’s opinion.

“If Mr Latham expresses a view about homosexual sex being disgusting, that is not anything like a universally held position,” Mr Smark said.

The overwhelming response had been a pile-on by the public, media and politicians condemning Mr Latham’s words, the barrister pointed out.

“Quite clearly many people thought that (Mr Latham) had demeaned himself by making the tweet but he hadn’t landed a reputational blow on Mr Greenwich even if he caused him significant offence.”

Just because something was vulgar did not make it defamatory, Mr Smark added.

An ordinary reasonable person would not think less of Mr Greenwich because of the tweet, he said.

Kieran Smark (left) and Mark Latham (centre)
 Mr Smark (left) said homophobes who responded to Mr Latham’s post had not changed their mind. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS 

Mr Smark added that homophobes – some of them clearly unhinged – who had responded to Mr Latham’s post had not changed their mind because of what had been written.

“All that’s coming to that person is an echo of their pre-existing belief,” he said.

The independent MP has also sued over statements by Mr Latham published in the Daily Telegraph in April 2023, which he says defamed him further by accusing him of grooming children in schools.

Mr Smark denied these imputations were carried and argued that these statements also did not harm Mr Greenwich’s reputation.

Mr Latham also brought a number of defences if the court found the tweet and his statements to the Daily Telegraph were defamatory.

One of these was a right to respond to the provocation from Mr Greenwich.

Alex Greenwich leaves the Federal Court
 Matt Collins KC (right) said the tweet clearly was about one particular sex act. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS 

Mr Smark said his client’s response was graphic but still proportionate to Mr Greenwich’s very serious attack.

“It was that he is a disgusting human being, condemning him utterly with no relativity at all across the dimensions of his life,” he told the court.

In response, barrister Matt Collins KC said the tweet clearly was not just about homosexual sex but about one particular sex act.

“To suggest that that is to be equated to homosexual sex is something one would not expect to hear in one of His Majesty’s courts in the third decade of the 21st century,” he said.

Mr Greenwich previously told the court that the tweet had caused him anxiety, panic attacks and fear of being in large public gatherings.

He said his mental state made him question whether he could continue advocating for his voters as well as the wider LGBTQI community.

The court heard the tweet had unleashed a torrent of abuse, including death threats, on the Sydney MP and those working at his electorate office.

The online sparring match between the two politicians followed violent protests outside a church in Sydney’s southwest where Mr Latham was giving a pre-election speech in March 2023.

About 250 mostly male counter-protesters violently attacked police and 15 LGBTQI protesters who had set themselves up outside the Belfield church.

The hearing continues on Friday.

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