Federal Member for Indi Cathy McGowan has told a County Court trial she saw Liberal candidate Sophie Mirabella place her hands on the chest of a Federal Government minister to stop him being in a photo.
The official opening of a new wing at the Benalla Cooinda Aged Care Centre has become central to a defamation case being heard in the County Court at Wangaratta this week.
In 2016, the Benalla Ensign published a story headlined ‘Awkward Encounter’, which said candidate and former member of parliament Ms Mirabella had pushed Ms McGowan to prevent her being in a photo with former assistant minister Ken Wyatt.
Ms McGowan spent a large part of yesterday in the witness box giving evidence about the opening in April, 2016, during an election campaign for the federal seat.
She said after the official proceedings, she saw Ms Mirabella place her hands on Mr Wyatt’s chest to prevent him from moving.
However, Ms McGowan said Ms Mirabella did not push her.
Questioned as to why she repeatedly refused to comment on what happened to the media, Ms McGowan said she did not want the story to dominate the election campaign, which she thought should be focused on issues like health, transport and mobile phone coverage.
She agreed she had spoken to Benalla Ensign editor Libby Price before the article was published, but had refused to give any details.
Ms McGowan said the incident at the opening was an embarrassment to a minister of the crown, to Cooinda, and to the community and she wanted to let the issue go.
Ms McGowan agreed the article was factually inaccurate, but did not see it as her job to correct media articles.
She agreed in a newspaper interview after the event, she had refused to answer whether Ms Mirabella pushed her or not.
Ms Mirabella’s husband, Greg Mirabella, told the court his wife was pale and shaking the day she was told about the published story.
He said there was intense media interest in the 2016 election and he got used to reading ‘‘stuff which was not true being printed’’.
But he said this story was the first time he had seen a single, clear falsehood had been printed.
‘‘I knew the political consequences of what would happen. That it would go viral.’’
Benalla Newspapers is defending the action.
Ms Mirabella is seeking aggravated damages and costs.
The trial is continuing in Wangaratta before Judge Michael Macnamara.