“Enoch Powell once remarked: ‘for a politician to complain about the press, is like a ship’s captain complaining about the sea’. As these proceedings demonstrate, a politician litigating about the barbs of a political adversary might be considered a similarly futile exercise,” Lee said in his opening remark to the court.
“Both the applicant, Mr Palmer, and the respondent, Mr McGowan, have chosen to be part of the hurly-burly of political life.
“Many members of the public will have instinctive views about them absent any personal interaction.”
He said Palmer’s commentary may have actually enhanced McGowan’s reputation—referring to friendly texts between the premier and The West Australian owner Kerry Stokes revealed during the trial that showed the media mogul backed the government’s action on the stalled mining project legislation.
“It is more likely that Mr McGowan’s reputation was enhanced, as the coverage Mr McGowan celebrated with Mr Stokes revealed, and as his language in the cross-claim matters made plain, they provided a common foe against which Mr McGowan could unite Western Australians, ” he said.
“As Mr McGowan accepted, Mr Palmer was someone with whom Mr McGowan was ‘happy to have a blue with’.”
Lee described both Palmer and McGowan as “political antagonists” and rubbished claims by Palmer during the hearing that he was not a political figure at the time.
“No-one picking up a newspaper in Australia in 2020 could be in any doubt as to the political profile of Mr Palmer,” Lee said.
“Although he was not running for office in 2020, he was the chairman of the United Australia Party, and was one of the most well-known figures operating in the sphere of Australian politics generally.”
Palmer, McGowan, Quigley evidence criticized
Lee also took aim at Palmer, McGowan and WA Attorney-General John Quigley’s testimony while in the witness stand.
He said Palmer was often willing to fashion his evidence to suit what he perceived to would be best for his case.
“His confidence and self-assuredness was evident, indeed, he carried himself with the unmistakable aura of a man assured as to the correctness of his own opinions,” Lee said.
Lee was bewildered by evidence from Palmer that he thought the $30 billion damages legislation gave McGowan a “license to kill” himself and his family because it provided some exemptions from criminal liability.
“To even his most rusted-on partisans, Mr McGowan would be unlikely to have been thought to resemble Ian Fleming’s fictional MI6 character, James Bond,” Lee said.
Lee said McGowan was generally an impressive witness but, when pressed on aspects of his evidence, exhibited the “muscle memory” of a politician in being non-responsive.
But Lee was also not impressed with Quigley, who was re-examined during a trial after he conceded he had given “misleading evidence” during his first time in the box.
“Regrettably, his evidence was both confused and confusing,” Lee said.
“I do not consider it is safe to place any reliance upon Mr Quigley’s evidence.”
‘I started it’: McGowan responds
WA taxpayers are being charged for McGowan’s defense and counter-suit, of which the cost has so far remained private.
McGowan would not reveal what the case would cost WA taxpayers but defended his strong public commentary against Palmer in 2020.
“Western Australia was dragged, and myself were dragged, into this court process. To be clear, Clive Palmer took action against the state of Western Australia. And then he sued me,” he said.
“I didn’t bring the action in the courts, just so you all understand, I didn’t do it. I responded to it.
“Obviously, my preference would be the action had not been brought, my very strong preference, but I didn’t bring it. I can’t control what other people do.”
Questioned about Lee’s criticisms of himself and Quigley, McGowan said he accepted the judgment of the court.
McGowan also supported Quigley to remain in his cabinet.
“I actually think the attorney-general was fantastic, magnificent in coming up with ways of saving lives and saving the state’s finances and I think he should be congratulated for that,” he said.
WA Opposition Leader Mia Davies said the spat had cost taxpayers money and time the premier could have spent dealing with crises in health, housing, and cost of living.
She also called for Quigley to leave McGowan’s cabinet.
“Clearly, it is time for Mr Quigley to go – the premier needs to wake up and take responsibility for his embattled cabinet,” Davies said.
Shadow attorney-general Nick Goiran said it was a “damning indictment” for law and order in the state to have an attorney general taken apart in the witness box and have his evidence deemed unreliable.
“The premier now has two gigantic headaches to resolve: when to come clean on how much taxpayer money has been wasted in this pointless extravagance and who to appoint as replacement attorney-general,” he said.
A hearing to determine legal costs has been set down for August 11.