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Mirabella damages claim heard

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May 04, 2018

Sophie Mirabella arrives at court last week, with husband Greg Mirabella.

Lawyers for aggrieved former politician Sophie Mirabella have asked for between $300000 and $400000 for aggravated and compensatory damages following a defamation trial.

A County Court jury found the Benalla Ensign had defamed the political candidate in a story which said she had pushed her opponent Cathy McGowan, who went on to win the seat of Indi.

Judge Michael Macnamara started hearing submissions on damages after the jury returned its verdict on Wednesday.

Appearing for Ms Mirabella, Georgina Schoff QC said the context must be taken into account, with the competition between Ms Mirabella and Ms McGowan in the election in 2016 having been labelled as one to watch nationwide and not just of interest for the Indi voters.

She said the plaintiff was a ‘‘high-profile candidate’’ and had been proven to be a ‘‘person of the highest reputation’’, but ‘‘unfortunately’’ the false accusation became part of her legacy.

Although the defamatory claims had ‘‘spread like wildfire’’ once online, the apology published by the Benalla Ensign was not uploaded to its website and consequently was reached by a significantly smaller audience, Ms Schoff told the court.

David Gilbertson QC, appearing for Benalla Newspapers and former editor Libby Price, said although the article was ‘‘a serious defamation’’, it was at the ‘‘lower end’’.

He argued the plaintiff’s comments to Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt last year that they needed to ‘‘get (their) evidence right’’ were an example of ‘‘disreputable conduct of sufficient seriousness to warrant Ms Mirabella being awarded moderate damage’’.

Mr Gilbertson suggested damages should be ‘‘well under $100000’’.

He said the circulation numbers were ‘‘not extraordinary numbers’’, particularly when compared with the reach of metropolitan newspapers and other mainstream online news sources.

Judge Michael Macnamara will determine the amount to be awarded in damages.

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