Minister gives evidence

By Benalla Ensign

Federal Member for Indi Cathy McGowan has told a court an altercation occurred when opposing Liberal candidate Sophie Mirabella tried to prevent a photograph being taken at a Benalla aged-care facility.

Ms McGowan was answering questions when giving evidence in a defamation trial in Wangaratta yesterday.

Ms Mirabella is suing the Benalla Ensign and former Editor Libby price for defamation over an article published in 2016, which stated that she had pushed Ms McGowan to prevent her from being in a photo with Minister for the Aged Ken Wyatt.

Ms McGowan told the court she had spoken to editor Libby Price and told her ‘‘An altercation happened’’. She also said ‘‘I didn’t want to talk about it, can we leave it at that.’’

Ms McGowan denied that Ms Mirabella had pushed her. Mr Wyatt gave evidence he had not seen Ms Mirabella push Ms McGowan at the opening of a new wing at the Cooinda Aged Care Hostel, but she had urged him not to be in a photograph with her, because it would harm the Liberal campaign in the 2016 election.

He said Ms Mirabella had her hands on his chest for up to a minute to prevent him being in the photo.

Mr Wyatt also gave evidence of a conversation, which he said happened at a Liberal Party conference after she had started legal proceedings, where Ms Mirabella had said: ‘‘We need to get our evidence right.’’

Mr Wyatt said he’d replied that he was a justice of the peace and that the remark was inappropriate.

Ms Mirabella had told the court she had secretly recorded a conversation with Mr Wyatt earlier in the day, in which Mr Wyatt agreed he had not seen her push Ms McGowan, but in which he had insisted that she had placed her hands on his chest to stop him being in a photo.

Ms Mirabella said the publication of the Benalla Ensign article had damaged her and agreed it had damaged her campaign.

Questioned about an incident that received national coverage, following the broadcast of a Sky News debate, Ms Mirabella admitted her comments that Wangaratta had missed out on $10million of federal funding because they had elected an independent, was a ‘‘gaffe’’.

Under questioning by David Gilbertson QC, for the defendant company, Ms Mirabella said she had meant the promise was a personal commitment.

She agreed the then health minister and treasurer had denied there was any funding commitment.

She said she meant she was going to advocate for the funding after the election.

‘‘I took responsibility for not being prepared, for being upset and not explaining myself properly,’’ Ms Mirabella said, explaining that she was upset about the newspaper article at the time.

Yesterday the court heard from Enough is Enough anti-violence campaign co-founder Tania Marie Maxwell, of Wangandary, who spoke about Ms Mirabella’s support for the campaign.

After the publication, it was a topic discussed at a social night where there were many Labor and Ms McGowan supporters, and Ms Maxwell said the consensus appeared to be that because the report of the pushing allegation was in the newspaper, it must be true.

She said she’d had a call from Ms Mirabella after the report, who was distressed and upset.

The trial, before Judge Michael Macnamara, continues.