Judge's sexual abuse reference in Hanson payout appeal

·3-min read
Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS

A judge in Pauline Hanson's defamation appeal hearing says he has "great difficulty" in seeing how Brian Burston could not have sexually abused his young staffer.

The One Nation leader is appealing against a court order to pay her former colleague $250,000 after she was found to have defamed him last year through "seriously damaging" comments made on Nine's Today Show in March 2019.

In the interview, Ms Hanson claimed her former One Nation colleague had sexually abused his female staff member and had assaulted the party's chief of staff James Ashby without provocation at Parliament House.

Both claims were found to be defamatory, but a further claim was thrown out after a Federal Court judge found Mr Burston sexually harassed a former colleague by sexually propositioning her and sexually harassed a second staffer over "a prolonged period".

Ms Hanson is appealing against the court's decision with a truth defence. Her barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC argued the proven sexual harassment of Mr Burston's former staff member was sexual abuse, even if it did not include molestation.

"We say where it's a sexual act, where there's a power imbalance, ongoing sexual harassment that becomes intolerable because it's persistent, constant and ongoing, where there is unwelcome touching, well the ordinary person would consider that abuse," she told three appeal judges on Tuesday.

"The notion we had to prove some act of molestation is not the standard we needed to meet. We proved sexual touching and intent, we say all of that falls within the notion of sexual abuse."

Mr Burston's former staff member told the court last year the then-senator was infatuated with her, consistently sexually harassing her, forcefully kissing her multiple times and making inappropriate comments.

In one instance he stuffed money down her shirt and refused to take it back when she pulled it out.

In another, he invited himself into her home "for a wine" and passionately kissed her upon leaving.

One of the appeal judges told Mr Burston's lawyer his sexual interactions and harassment were not "low-level".

"I have great difficulty in seeing how a 70-something cannot be said to have sexually abused a 30-year-old woman when he sticks his hand down her shirt," Justice Michael Wigney said on Tuesday.

"(Ms Crysanthou) referred to the #metoo movement and that is relevant as I would suggest that a movie director who stuck his hand down a young actress's cleavage would be sexually abusing the actress."

In the defamation ruling last year, Justice Robert Bromwich called Mr Burston's conduct "objectively wrong and inappropriate", including that he told another staffer, "You probably just need a good f***".

"(But) 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," the judge said.

Ms Hanson's lawyer said there has "never been a time" when someone could consider that behaviour "not objectively wrong and inappropriate".

Mr Burston's lawyer said it was "clearly inappropriate and offensive" but the extent of the contact was "fleeting".

Ms Hanson is also appealing against the ruling on the assault of her chief of staff, Mr Ashby, which the judge in the defamation case ruled was provoked.

Mr Burston quit Ms Hanson's One Nation to join United Australia Party in June 2018 after falling out with his colleagues over his stance on then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull's proposed tax cuts.

He failed to retain his seat at the 2019 federal election.

An appeal judgment will be handed down at a later date.