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LGAQ CEO no Al Capone
Public life in Queensland is a long way from the streets of Chicago in the 1930s. However, Queensland Local Government Association (LGAQ) CEO Greg Hallam is determined to show that he is no Aussie Al Capone.
It is hard to know what world one would need to inhabit, to believe the LGAQ CEO is a crime boss. However Hallam is keen to prove he is not living a secret life as an Australian Tony Soprano.
In his defamation claim against F
ar North Queensland woman, Lyn O’Connor a.k.a. Elizabeth Kennedy, Mr Hallam felt the need to make it clear (no less than five times) that he is definitely not a powerful crime boss.
There is no end of political views on Facebook. However, when Lynn O’Connor in her alter ego Elizabeth Kennedy warned that the LGAQ was becoming a cult and supporting a ‘new world order’, she did not know what she was in for. Mr Hallam claimed in his legal action that her comments were understood to mean that Mr Hallam:
- Was a powerful crime boss
- Further and alternatively, was corrupt; and…. Further and alternatively, operated the LGAQ as a cartel, a profitable criminal empire.
There is no denying the existence of corruption in local government, but such an imputation is surely taking the law a bridge too far.
Satire not Welcomed by LGAQ CEO
High profile people are legitimate targets. However, O’Connor took a satirical route in her jabs against Hallam. In cheeky fashion, O’Connor drew on the Star Wars trilogy, assigning Hallam the personality Jabba the Hutt. In one of her Facebook posts she has Jabba saying. “The CCC is not doing enough to stop this and we don’t want the truth getting out and ruining everything.’.
The identity of Jabba is not immediately clear. However, LGAQ CEO Hallam’s highly paid lawyers were wise to the ruse. Their claim states O’Connor’s satirical jab was directed at their client. This is evidenced from her sign off of the above comment with “Yours Sincerely Jabba de Hallom. Leader of the Galactic Council of totalitarian rule”. They deduced the sign off was a parody of the generously proportioned Star Wars Character. A vulgar response to their deductive skills would be …no shit Sherlock!
Imputations – You say A and I say B
Throughout the claim, the LGAQ CEO’s solicitors make use of the creative legal device known as “imputations”. This happens when you say something and the other party puts forward an ‘imputation’ as to what you really meant. For example, you say “would you like a drink” and I say “you have made the imputation that `I am an alcoholic”.
This legal strategy makes it very hard to avoid a defamation claim, because something you say can be imputed to mean something completely different. For example, when `I ask my wife if she wants potatoes for dinner, she may make the imputation I am suggesting we cut off Peter Dutton’s head and mash it as a side. It is hard to know the limits of imputation.
Jabba the Imputation
Of course the use of imputation enables the plaintiff to draw their preferred scenario. In the action against O’Connor, Hallam could have cast the imputation she was saying he was a ‘grotesquely overweight and offensive character’. Who are we to say this was not in O’Connor’s mind? Short of reading her mind, is it ever possible to know?
LGAQ CEO Hallam’s decision to impute O’Conner’s comments as meaning he is an evil crime boss shows how flexible the notion of imputation is. While many would recall Jabba the Hutt as an overweight alien from Star Wars, one would surely need a detailed knowledge of the plot to recall his crime boss status.
Not funny for defendants
Despite the ridiculous nature of this LGAQ funded defamation claim, there are real life consequences. Most obviously are the wider implications of this attack on freedom of speech. However, at the personal level, the consequences are real and painful for defendants like O’Connor. She has experienced very negative impacts on her mental and physical health and bankruptcy.
It is easy to sit back and laugh at legal actions like this (especially when one is not a party to them). However, they clearly highlight the urgent need for defamation law reform. Consequently, without reform, defamation actions will remain the domain of the privileged and powerful. As a result, it will remain a sport for them to distress and ultimately ruin the more vulnerable members of our community with whom they disagree and want to silence.
– Rob Pyne (former Councillor, MP and a co-defendant).