Pauline Hanson ordered to pay former colleague Brian Burston $250,000 over sex abuse allegation


One Nation leader Pauline Hanson has been ordered to pay former senator Brian Burston $250,000 over a defamatory television interview in which she falsely alleged he sexually abused a female staffer in his office.

Mr Burston, who quit the party in 2018, sued Ms Hanson in the Federal Court, claiming she accused him of sexual harassment on social media, in a text message to his wife and in the interview.

While Mr Burston succeeded in some elements of the case, a judge today found the evidence established he sexually harassed a former colleague by sexually propositioning her, and sexually harassed a second staffer over “a prolonged period”.

Justice Robert Bromwich ruled that Ms Hanson’s truth defence succeeded in relation to two of the eight imputations, or meanings, about “sexual harassment” which Mr Burston argued.

Brian Burston looks from the Senate doors towards the President's chair. He's wearing a blue suit and tie.
The judge found Mr Burston in many respects to have been “an unsatisfactory witness”.(ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

In the March 2019 television interview on Channel Nine, Ms Hanson referred to an altercation in parliament house between the party’s strategist James Ashby and Mr Burston, and claimed Mr Burston was the aggressor.

She also made reference to “the sexual abuse and harassment that was going on with a female staffer in his office”.

Mr Burston claimed the interview conveyed the defamatory imputations that he sexually abused a female staffer in his parliamentary office, that he harassed a female staffer in the officer, and that he physically assaulted Mr Ashby without provocation.

In his judgment today, Justice Bromwich found the real “sting” was that of “sexual abuse” and that Ms Hanson was saying Mr Burston had both harassed, and “gone further to sexually abuse”, a female staffer.

“There was no evidence that Ms Hanson had any proper basis for suspecting, let alone believing or knowing, that Mr Burston’s conduct went so far as to constitute sexual abuse,” he said.

The judge found Ms Hanson’s truth defence in relation to the imputation of an unprovoked physical assault had failed.

He said the two proven imputations were “seriously damaging to Mr Burston’s reputation, being broadcast on a nationally broadcast television program watched by over 290,000 people at that time”.

“They were both false.”

Brian and Pauline stand by a small aircraft.
Brian Burston and Pauline Hanson in 2016.(Facebook)

Earlier this year, the court heard Mr Burston sexually propositioned a colleague, Wendy Leach, in May 2018.

Ms Leach recalled that while she was upset following a staff meeting, Mr Burston remarked: “Oh Wendy, you probably just need a good f***”.

Ms Leach testified that Mr Burston then said he was not joking.

“I can come around to your place,” he added, according to Ms Leach.

“No one would need know, it will be the best f*** you’ve ever had.”

Another former staffer of Mr Burston, Terrie-lea Vairy, told the court of his unwelcome comments about her appearance and physical advances.

Ms Vairy claimed he tried to kiss her, asked her questions of a sexual nature, once made a comment about her “perfect size” breasts, and at one point declared that he was in love with her.

Justice Bromwich said he was in no doubt Mr Burston sexually propositioned Ms Leach and that Ms Vairy suffered “continued harassment from Mr Burston during her employment, predominantly of a sexual nature”.

“Ms Leach and Ms Vairy gave evidence that was full of adjectives to describe the profoundly unbearable workplace they endured under the employ of Mr Burston,” he said.

The judge found Mr Burston in many respects to have been “an unsatisfactory witness”.

“I observe that he was a man of his age, background and social views who, at the time, probably genuinely saw nothing wrong with his behaviour, however objectively wrong and inappropriate it was.”

Justice Bromwich said he had “apparently not kept up with changes in society in relation to the rights of women”.

In a statement, Ms Hanson said the court had accepted “candid evidence of two brave women who were willing to speak out about their experiences”.

“I am grateful to Ms Leach and Ms Vairy for their courage and resilience in extremely difficult circumstances,” she said.

Ms Hanson said the “mixed result” was an example of how complicated Australia’s defamation laws are.

“As to the claim that was found to be established, I am considering my appeal rights.”

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