ABC denies Higgins' address concerned Bruce Lehrmann
An address by Brittany Higgins to the National Press Club was not about ex-Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann and was not defamatory, the ABC has said.
Mr Lehrmann has sued the public broadcaster for defamation over a live broadcast of a joint address by Ms Higgins and former Australian of the Year Grace Tame on February 9 last year.
While the address never named the law student directly, he claims he was defamed because it invited viewers to speculate about the identity of the person accused.
Doing this while his criminal trial over the same allegation was pending caused "serious harm to the reputation of the applicant," he said.
In its Federal Court defence filed on Thursday, the ABC has said the address did not concern Mr Lehrmann and that it did not contain any defamatory statements against him.
Even if viewers knew the address was about Mr Lehrmann, the ABC argues he would not be entitled to any damages because at that point the criminal trial against him had not yet commenced.
"(Accordingly) it was not a proven fact that Lehrmann had raped Ms Higgins on a couch in Parliament House," the ABC wrote.
"Lehrmann was entitled to the presumption of innocence."
His reputation would not be further changed because of the address, the ABC argued.
The broadcaster has also said a concerns notice sent by Mr Lehrmann was defective because it did not provide sufficient detail about the harm he alleged the National Press Club address did to his reputation.
The resultant lawsuit was "not competent" as a result and should be dismissed, the broadcaster wrote.
In its defence, the ABC argues the broadcast was "a fair report of proceedings of public concern" and related to issues of public interest.
Mr Lehrmann has also filed defamation proceedings against Network Ten and News Life Media, the firm behind News.com.au over reports in February 2021 of Ms Higgins' allegations.
Former host of The Project, Lisa Wilkinson, and News.com.au political editor Samantha Maiden are both named in the lawsuits.
Ms Higgins accused Mr Lehrmann of raping her inside the Parliament House office of then minister Linda Reynolds, who they both worked for in March 2019.
He denies the allegation, maintaining the pair never had any sexual interaction.
A criminal trial brought against Mr Lehrmann in the ACT Supreme Court was derailed in October because of juror misconduct.
In December, the prosecutor dropped the charges due to impacts a second trial would have on Ms Higgins' mental health.
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