BuzzFeed is seeking to defend those imputations on the basis that they are true. Ms Husar’s lawyers succeeded on Friday in obtaining a non-publication order over parts of the written defence filed by the publisher in court.
In a preliminary hearing on Friday, Ms Husar’s barrister, high-profile defamation silk Sandy Dawson, SC, asked Federal Court Justice Steven Rares to strike out particulars in BuzzFeed’s defence which the publisher says support its truth defence.
«My client is charged with being a slut who boasts about it and there is not one element of that allegation that is addressed by these particulars,» Mr Dawson said.
The court heard BuzzFeed alleges in its defence that Ms Husar invited her physiotherapist to staff drinks at her electorate office and told staff she was going to «try and seduce him».
The publisher alleges Ms Husar «openly flirted» with the man and made a sexually suggestive comment to him that made two staff members so uncomfortable they left the event.
Mr Dawson said BuzzFeed did not «condescend» to tell the court or their opponent what the comment was, and «there is no suggestion of a sexual relationship».
«The highest it rises is a sexually suggestive comment,» Mr Dawson said.
Justice Rares told BuzzFeed’s barrister, Clarissa Amato, said it «must have been a pretty dramatic comment» but he had «no way of judging» if what was said was sexually inappropriate unless it was set out in the defence.
The court heard BuzzFeed also alleges in the defence that it was «common practice» for Ms Husar to tell her staff who she found attractive and who she had had sex with, as well as people with whom she would like to have sex with.
The defence alleges Ms Husar told her media adviser she had been in a relationship with a Labor MP and also went out with a Labor staffer on what she believed was a date.
There was a «suggestion» in the defence that Ms Husar had sent her media adviser a photo of her out late with the staffer in question, Mr Dawson said.
Mr Dawson said there was «no suggestion of indiscriminate sexual activity, nor is there boasting about that encounter».
Justice Rares said there appeared to be a question about whether there was an «overlap» or a «concurrence» in the two events, namely that Ms Husar had been in a relationship with the MP at the time she went on what she believed was a date with a staffer.
BuzzFeed also alleges in its defence that Ms Husar crossed and uncrossed her legs to demonstrate she was not wearing underwear – emulating a famous scene in the 1992 film Basic Instinct, starring Sharon Stone – in front of Labor frontbencher Jason Clare. Ms Husar and Mr Clare have strenuously denied the claim.
Mr Dawson said «what is not alleged is that this was an act designed to lead to sex or on the back of sex having occurred» and it was «a scandalous particular» that could not be used to support BuzzFeed’s truth defence.
But Justice Rares said that «if it happened it’s certainly not suggesting discreet behaviour» and it could form part of an «overall picture of behaviour».
«This suggests pretty indiscriminate sexual conduct and a familiarity with the person,» Justice Rares said.
Ms Amato, for BuzzFeed, said the word «slut» was «not our word. We didn’t use it. It’s not in our article», but it had a broader meaning than Ms Husar’s legal team contended.
It incorporated not only «indiscriminate sexual encounters» but slovenly or sluttish behaviour» such as «exposing yourself» and «talking about who you had sex with».
Justice Rares said an allegation of «talking about it without doing it won’t get you anywhere near» proving that a person was a slut.
The hearing continues.
Michaela Whitbourn is a legal affairs reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald.
Georgina Mitchell is a court reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.