ONE Nation’s WA Senator-elect Rod Culleton has taken out a wide-spread defamation claim seeking $250,000 for alleged personal reputational damage from social media “attacks”.
The legal action was filed in March this year in the WA Supreme Court against 18 individuals over comments posted on the Channel Nine 60 Minutes Facebook page, in April 2015.
The posts came after the broadcast of a controversial 60 Minutes episode covering farm foreclosures by the ANZ Bank which included the forced sale of Mr Culleton’s property at Williams in WA that went into receivership in 2013.
The program also addressed issues with an attempted foreclosure at nearby Cuballing, in March 2015, for which the Senator-elect is now facing allegations of stealing a $27,000 hire car used by two bank appointed receivers from RSM Bird Cameron.
The charges relating to the car theft allegations are due to be heard next Monday, with four days set aside for trial at the Magistrates Court in Perth.
Most of the 18 defendants in the defamation claim are located in WA’s southern Wheatbelt region around the Williams agricultural district, while others are based in Queensland and Victoria.
One defendant is understood to be a relative of the family that purchased Mr Culleton’s foreclosed property and featured prominently in the 60 Minutes broadcast which ignited strong feelings in the local farming community.
Several defendants declined to comment to Fairfax Agricultural Media but say some of the 18 are believed to be creditors of the Culletons Pty Ltd wool and grain buying entity that went into liquidation in the mid-1990’s while owing money to multiple farmers in the district and other related businesses.
But Mr Culleton said he was pursuing the defamation action over the Facebook posts to defend his family name and described the ongoing claim as, “a very sensitive issue”.
He said he was “actually quite Facebook illiterate” but was concerned his wife and children were also exposed to the posts - with repeated warnings made to remove the comments by an administrator - and the family’s reputation needed to be protected.
Mr Culleton said he wasn’t planning to “go the whole distance” with the legal matter but wanted the defendants to “put it on the table”.
“I’m not going to try and do the big standover thing but I want them to be accountable,” he said.
“At the end of the day, there were some very damaging remarks made there and I’ve given them the opportunity to come and openly talk about it.
“(But) because they won’t do it in a normal sense, we have gone the next step but that’s not saying we’re going to carry right through on it.”
Mr Culleton said the social media “attacks” stemmed from community perceptions relating to debts associated with the wool buying side of Culletons but stressed that side of the business was run by his father for 21-years with an “unblemished” record, until the wool reserve price scheme collapsed, in the early 1990’s.
“To me a lot of those people would still have been in the old man’s nut safe (not yet born) and I don’t know those people, so we would ask for them to apologise,” he said.
“I’ve asked them to come and apologise and make amends and they failed to do it and they told me to bugger off in a nice sense but it was worse than that.”
Mr Culleton said his reputation and public credibility was also his “intellectual property”.
“I am Rodney Culleton and I will not accept where people just be key board warriors because it’s a sense of bullying, if you haven’t got your facts,” he said.
“I’ve given them an opportunity now to come and give the facts on their statements and they can’t do that.
“I can’t please everyone in this life and I don’t choose to go out and do that.
“But I stand on principle and some people agree with that and some don’t.”
Mr Culleton was elected 11th for the WA Senate at the recent election and is confident he can overcome various legal disputes to avoid formal disqualification and take his place in federal parliament.
That includes a larceny charge in NSW over the alleged theft of a $7.50 key during an incident with a tow truck driver at Guyra, on the attempted repossession of a vehicle.
In parliament, Mr Culleton wants to pursue farm foreclosure and bank-lending issues, especially relating to ANZ’s purchase of the Landmark rural loans book, via a Royal Commission into banking that he says will be held in WA.
“If someone just got removed from their property illegally, in the sense that there had been no defaults or whatever, would they sit outside their farm gate and just allow some third party to come in and just destruct the whole place?” he said.
“Essentially that’s what happened to us.”