Qld judge concerned by Jones' evidence

Warren Barnsley
Alan Jones' lawyer has conceded some defamation damages have to be paid to the Wagners

A Brisbane judge has questioned the evidence given by Alan Jones and Nick Cater as the veteran media men defended themselves in a $4.8 million defamation case.

Jones, Cater, Harbour Radio and 4BC are being sued by Queensland's prominent Wagner family, who claim they were accused of 12 deaths in the 2011 Grantham floods when one of the walls of the Lockyer Valley quarry they owned collapsed.

Sydney-based radio broadcaster Jones and journalist Cater gave evidence in the Brisbane Supreme Court during the trial last month, using truth as a defence.

But Justice Peter Flanagan was critical of the reassertion of their claims about the Wagners' alleged responsibility, given it was not based on the opinion of expert witnesses.

"They relied on what they believed at the time of publication," Justice Flanagan said during closing submissions on Thursday.

"Neither Mr Jones nor Mr Cater in repeating their allegedly defamatory statements and their beliefs referred in any way to expert evidence.

"They repeated what has always been their beliefs, that the photographs, videos, eyewitness statements and accounts are sufficient to establishing a complex area of hydrology by causal link between the collapse of the bund at the quarry and the resulting deaths of 12 people.

"I haven't encountered that before."

A $2.5 million inquiry by then solicitor-general Walter Sofronoff in 2015 cleared the Wagners, with Cater last year settling with the family in a previous defamation action.

"Mr Cater ... says, 'I do not accept that (Sofronoff finding). I remain of the opinion that the bund collapsing at the quarry caused a catastrophic surge that resulted in the deaths of 12 people'," Justice Flanagan said.

"Therefore, any vindication of the plaintiffs' reputation by a settlement in which he participated is very much lessened at least, isn't it, if not entirely dissipated?"

Jones' lawyer Robert Anderson QC admitted some of his claims about the Wagners could not be defended.

But he argued the accused parties should not face a similar payout to the record $4.5 million originally awarded to defamed actress Rebel Wilson.

"We accept there must be awarded damages because as Your Honour has seen ... there are some meanings that are not able to be defended," Mr Anderson said.

Mr Anderson said a similar payout to Wilson's original, reduced by $3.9 million on appeal on Thursday, was unjustified because Jones did not have the reach of Wilson's defaming publisher Bauer Media.

Bauer, he argued, had a readership of 1.5 million and their claims portraying the Australian movie star as dishonest were proliferated worldwide.

The hearing has concluded, with judgment expected in September.