Former Liberal member of parliament Sophie Mirabella has been awarded $175000 in damages for a story published by the Benalla Ensign.
The award followed a County Court trial which found that the 2016 article, alleging Ms Mirabella had pushed Federal Member for Indi Cathy McGowan to prevent her from participating in a photo, was defamatory.
Ms Mirabella was a candidate for the seat that she failed to regain.
Judge Michael Macnamara said the defamatory statement was very much at the low end of the scale, but the damage to Mrs Mirabella’s reputation was not.
Judge Macnamara said the publication had caused significant hurt to Mrs Mirabella’s reputation and he accepted it had caused great distress to her.
Judge Macnamara noted the republication of the defamatory article was extensive and had resulted in vitriol directed at Mrs Mirabella on social media.
‘‘... the defamatory statement provided the platform from which the vitriol in these tweets could be hurled at Mrs Mirabella.’’
Ms Mirabella’s legal team argued for an award of between $300000 and $400000, while the defendant company suggested less than $100000.
The judge said the extensive republication and internet activity had contributed to the damages figure.
Judge Macnamara noted that former editor Libby Price had not sought a response from Mrs Mirabella prior to publishing the allegation, which had apparently been obtained from only one source, so there was a degree of recklessness in the publication.
Judge Macnamara reserved his decision on costs.
The Benalla Ensign is a McPherson Media Group company.