‘Hate and abuse’: Why MP suing Latham

Mark Latham (C) arrives at the Federal Court in Sydney. Picture: NewsWire / Christian Gilles

Sydney MP Alex Greenwich has told a court he launched legal proceedings against former NSW One Nation leader Mark Latham because he “wanted the hate and abuse to stop”.

The Sydney MP launched defamation proceedings against the controversial and newly-independent Mr Latham in May last year following a graphic and homophobic tweet.

In a statement of claim, Mr Greenwich alleged Mr Latham painted him as “not a fit and proper person” to be in parliament because he “engages in disgusting sexual activities”.

He further alleged Mr Latham portrayed him as “a disgusting human being who goes to school to groom children to become homosexuals” in a subsequent media interview.

Taking to the stand during the first day of the defamation hearing at the Federal Court on Wednesday, Mr Greenwich told the court the comments “made my stomach churn”.

Mr Greenwich described the imputations as “justification of the attack” on him and said the tweet, as in the statement of claim, had “saddened me and angered me”.

He told the court had the incident happened prior to the last election he may have considered whether to run again, stating he sought legal action because he “wanted the hate and abuse to stop”.

Much of the first day’s proceedings focused on the lead up to the tweet, namely a war of words sparked by a protest against a speaking event by Mr Latham in March 2023.

Sydney MP Alex Greenwich is suing Mark Latham for defamation. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Nikki Short

In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Mr Greenwich described Mr Latham as a “disgusting human being” who was “extremely hateful and dangerous”.

He accused Mr Latham of targeting “vulnerable minority groups”, but rebuffed accusations the statements were provocative coming just days before the state election.

Asked by Mr Latham’s barrister, Mr Kieran Smark SC, if he believed the comments would “likely provoke a response from him”, Mr Greenwich said he disagreed.

“If taken out of the context of the comments with which I provided, I could understand that view,” he said when asked about calling another politician “dangerous”.

“But, in the context of the only incident of political violence we had during the election, and indeed in any modern election I remember in this country,” he continued, referring to a riot outside a Sydney church at which Mr Latham was due to speak in March.

“And, in relation to the way in which the election tactics of Mr Latham seemed to be targeting a vulnerable group, even when that may spill over into violence against them.

“Again, this (the comments to the Sydney Morning Herald was my honest opinion and my honest reaction to the incidents that unfolded in the context of a state election.”

Mr Greenwich’s barrister, Dr Matt Collins AM KC, told Justice David O’Callaghan the 43-year-old’s “life had changed” as a result of the tweet and following publications.

In his opening address, Dr Collins claimed Mr Greenwich had since started suffering panic attacks as a result of Mr Latham’s comments, and felt unsafe in public and at gatherings.

Mark Latham tweeted about Mr Greenwich following the church riot. Picture: NewsWire / Christian Gilles

“The impact has been so severe that he (Mr Greenwich) has found himself questioning whether he can continue to serve the people of NSW in public life,” Dr Collins said.

Mr Greenwich’s barrister said the MP closed his office following the comments out of fears for the safety of himself and his staff, who were trained in handling suspicious mail.

He was later grilled under cross examination about whether he had reduced his public appearances since the tweeting, telling the court he had “become an expert in the French exit”.

“I’ve always maintained the importance of having a stiff upper lip and putting up a brave face and I have continued to do that. That lip though, has been quivering,” he said.

Mr Greenwich also rebuffed claims by Mr Smark about whether he had felt safe enough that in March he shared his preferred restaurants for a piece in the Sunday Telegraph.

The former NSW One Nation leader called Mr Greenwich “disgusting” and made crude comments about anal sex in the tweet, which was removed after just 2.5 hours online.

Nonetheless, Dr Collins claimed the “maelstrom of the tweet” served to keep the matter in the media and sparked a torrent of abuse online and in written correspondence.

In his opening address, Dr Collins set to lay out a war of words between the men sparked by a riot outside a Sydney church at which Mr Latham was due to speak in March.

More than 200 churchgoers clashed with about 15 protesters from the LGBTQ+ community who the court were told had liaised with NSW Police prior to the event.

Mark Latham was invited to speak about religious freedoms at the church in Belfield. Picture: Facebook
Mark Latham was invited to speak about religious freedoms at the church in Belfield. Picture: Facebook
Instead, the riot squad were called after more than 500 people turned up to protest outside. Picture: Facebook
Instead, the riot squad were called after more than 500 people turned up to protest outside. Picture: Facebook

In the days after, Mr Latham said he was expecting a “normal constructive discussion” and condemned co-called “transgender radical left wing activists” for sparking the clashes.

“Far from condemning the very violent protest churchgoers had engaged in, he instead said the law should deal with the 15 or so counter protesters,” Dr Collins said.

Dr Collins claimed Mr Latham gave a version of events to the media that differed from reports by police to the media, including that the activists had blocked road access.

“To put it crudely, Mr. Latham started it … To characterise the tweet, as nothing more than a response to some unprovoked attack by Mr. Greenwich is flatly wrong,” he said.

Dr Collins said in the interviews Mr Latham “got the facts hopelessly wrong” having accused Mr Greenwich of having “instigated a very violent confrontation”.

A number of earlier posts by Mr Latham were shown in court, including one in which he claimed Mr Greenwich and Chris Minns were “legislating to control the lives of little kids”.

The posts included a number of images of Mr Greenwich at World Pride Week events in Sydney, and referred to the so-called “Alphabet Tourists” or LGBTQ+ peoples.

Mr Latham has denied defaming Mr Greenwich, with his barrister telling the court last year the tweet was a reasonable response to the initial attack and was his honest opinion.

The former NSW One Nation leader claimed in the post to X, formerly Twitter, that Mr Greenwich engaged in “disgusting sexual activities”, but later deleted the tweet.

Mr Greenwhich last year offered Mr Latham a chance to settle outside of court and set a clear deadline for an apology; Mr Latham refused and matter went to hearing.

The hearing in the Federal Court is expected to run for five days, with a range of witnesses including Mr Greenwich, his husband, as well as members of his staff.

The hearing will continue on Wednesday.