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Labor MP Terri Butler Settles Defamation Suit From 18C QUT Student

"I can't confirm that there was a confidentiality clause and I can't confirm who initially sought it, because that would be in breach of the clause. If there was one."

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The student at the centre of a recent controversy around the Racial Discrimination Act, Calum Thwaites, has settled his defamation suit against Labor MP Terri Butler.

Mick Tsikas / AAPIMAGE

In a letter posted to her website on Thursday, Butler unreservedly apologised to Thwaites and said she would make a "modest payment" to him, along with a contribution to his legal costs.

Thwaites' lawyer, Anthony Morris, confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the case had been settled.

Thwaites was one of three Queensland University of Technology students taken to the Human Rights Commission over a series of racist Facebook posts regarding an Indigenous-only computer lab at the university.

After many months, the case was thrown out by a Federal Court judge who accepted Thwaites’s declaration that a fake account under his name had posted the racist Facebook status at the centre of the case.

The case sparked a nationwide discussion around section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, and was held up as an example of the law's failings by conservatives who are pushing to repeal it.

Dan Peled / AAPIMAGE

Thwaites started defamation proceedings against Butler after she implied on the ABC's Q&A program that in fact he was responsible for the racist Facebook status.

“He said that that was not him,” said The Australian's Greg Sheridan.

“Well, he would say that,” replied Butler.

In the letter posted to her website on Thursday, Butler wrote there should be "no suggestion" Thwaites was responsible for the Facebook post, or that he is racist or bigoted.

"In the course of the debate on Q&A, I made comments which were capable of being understood as meaning that you had been responsible for that Facebook post, making you a racist bigot and that, when you denied using those words in court proceedings, you were being dishonest or disingenuous," she wrote.

"I offer you my unreserved apology for enabling those meanings about you to be conveyed, and for the distress and damage to your reputation caused as a consequence."

It is the second apology Butler has offered to Thwaites. The first was rejected as "political spin" and a "sham" in a six-page letter that concluded with Thwaites wishing Butler a happy 39th birthday.

Neither party would reveal how much money had changed hands in the settlement.

"Ms Butler's lawyers sought a confidentiality clause that would not allow us to reveal the amount," Morris told BuzzFeed News.

But when this was put to Butler by BuzzFeed News, she burst out laughing.

"I'm very, very prepared to waive any obligation of confidentiality and for the plaintiff to tell anyone the amount of money," she said.

"If his lawyer is communicating to me via BuzzFeed that he would like that waived, then that is an unusual way of negotiating."

Asked if her lawyers had pushed for the clause, Butler said, "I can't confirm that there was a confidentiality clause and I can't confirm who initially sought it, because that would be in breach of the clause. If there was one."

"I can say that I find the idea that we sought a confidentiality clause quite amusing."

Butler said that in her career as a lawyer she had always encouraged clients to try to negotiate matters before heading to court.

"This is an argument that would have been interesting to have," she said, citing the potential implications for free speech in Australia.

"But my finding it intellectually interesting is not a good enough reason to not settle, and have the court's time taken up by this."

Morris said Thwaites had no further comment to make on the matter.

Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Lane Sainty at

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