Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm is struggling to convince his fellow parliamentarians to give sworn statements assisting his defence in the defamation case he is fighting against Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, a court has heard.
On Tuesday, Leyonhjelm's lawyer asked the court for more time to chase down an affidavit from crossbench senator Stirling Griff. But Griff told BuzzFeed News in a statement shortly after the hearing that he was only asked to consider an affidavit yesterday, and told Leyonhjelm he doesn't want to give one.
Hanson-Young is suing Leyonhjelm for defamation in the Federal Court over comments he made about her on several TV and radio programs following an argument between the pair in the Senate in June 2018.
Hanson-Young claims Leyonhjelm defamed her by suggesting she made the "absurd claim that all men are rapists"; that she is a hypocrite for claiming all men are rapists and sleeping with them regardless; and that she is a misandrist.
Leyonhjelm will argue several defences to the lawsuit, including truth and honest opinion.
Part of the dispute centres on what, exactly, Hanson-Young said or didn't say during the Senate debate. Her lawsuit claims that Leyonhjelm defamed her by suggesting, among other things, that she made the "absurd claim that all men are rapists" in the parliament. Hanson-Young has categorically denied making this comment.
But Leyonhjelm's defence, filed in court, says: "[Hanson-Young] made a claim, in the course of parliamentary debates on 28 June 2018, which was tantamount to a claim that all men are responsible for sexual assault or that all men are rapists."
The high profile trial, scheduled for April 2019, could see Australia's politicians take the witness stand and testify about what they heard in the Senate that day.
In a pre-trial hearing on Tuesday morning Leyonhjelm’s lawyer Leon Bertrand told the court his client is struggling to obtain an affidavit from Centre Alliance senator Stirling Griff and asked for an extension of time.
Bertrand said Leyonhjelm is "the only Liberal Democrat in the entire Australian Parliament" and "he has not found it very easy to obtain affidavits from his Senate colleagues".
Griff was in the Senate at the time Hanson-Young allegedly said words to the effect that "all men are rapists", Bertrand told the court.
"If an extension of time is not granted, my client’s opportunity to prove the truth of what was said in parliament would be severely compromised."
Justice Richard White said he would allow Leyonhjelm to file an application asking for an extension of time, but described the request as "surprising" and said Leyonhjelm had had "ample time" to get the affidavit.
A court order handed down in October said Leyonhjelm had to file affidavits from his witnesses at trial by November 30.
Griff told BuzzFeed News that Leyonhjelm had only asked him to "consider doing an affidavit" on December 17, and that he had already told Leyonhjelm he didn't want to.
"David Leyonhjelm asked yesterday that I consider doing an affidavit as I was in the chamber at the time," he said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon.
"I indicated I was not inclined to do so, as I heard both senators – and others – firing off at each other but could not be certain of the words used on the day in question."
White also ordered a mediation between Hanson-Young and Leyonhjelm, despite a distinct lack of enthusiasm offered by each side’s lawyers.
"We don’t seek a mediation Your Honour, but we have nothing to say if Your Honour orders it," said Hanson-Young’s barrister Sue Chrysanthou.
She added that Leyonhjelm had previously released correspondence between the two parties to the media, and said: "We’re very sceptical about his ability to approach any mediation in a bona fide way."
Bertrand said: "Presently there’s not a great likelihood of the matter settling via mediation. That may change later on but presently that is my view."
White said that even "seemingly reluctant participants" can often resolve their differences in mediation, and told the parties to have one before the end of March.
"I’ve no reason to suppose that people who hold responsible positions such as senators in the Australian Parliament would not be able to participate in a bona fide, rational and sensible way in the mediation," he said.
The trial has been scheduled for April 29 and is expected to last five days.