There are two intriguing aspects to the matter of David Ettridge versus Tony Abbott. Both were accentuated last Thursday.
Significantly, it appears Ettridge does indeed have a case to bring against the federal Opposition leader. But first, some background.
Entrepreneur David Ettridge has taken action in the Queensland Supreme Court against Tony Abbott and others. If the case is successful it may end the political career of the Liberal leader who most pundits predict will romp into the Lodge at the September election.
This saga began with the One Nation political party launched in 1997 by Pauline Hanson, David Ettridge and David Oldfield. The right wing splinter group was perceived to be stealing votes from the Liberal Party, which Pauline Hanson had left following speeches regarded as racist.
In response to this threat from the fledgling party, Tony Abbott formed a fund in 1998 to bankroll litigation against One Nation. The fund was called "Australians for Honest Politics Trust".
The campaign against One Nation was well-patronised and successful. According to journalist Margo Kingston, Abbott's fund raised $100,000 from donors including Liberal Party and corporate heavyweights.
The court action Abbott's fund paid for got One Nation deregistered. It also saw Pauline Hanson and David Ettridge convicted of electoral fraud in 2003 and jailed for 11 weeks. The convictions were later quashed on appeal.
David Ettridge is now suing Abbott for an apology and more than $1.5 million in damages, alleging his campaign was unlawful.
In Thursday's Queensland Supreme Court hearing, Justice Peter Applegarth advised Ettridge that his documents had been filed in the wrong format. Significantly, he did not say that the case was non-existent or even weak, as judges are keen to do with vexatious litigants.
In fact, Applegarth explicitly declined to reflect on the strength of the allegations either way. "I'm not encouraging you to think you've got a case," the judge is reported to have said. "Quite frankly you're not at first base yet in complying with the civil procedure."
In contrast, Justice Rares in the Federal Court last December summarily dismissed claims by James Ashby against former House of Representatives Speaker Peter Slipper.
The judge castigated Ashby for his "abuse of the process of the Court" which was advanced "by Mr Ashby for the predominant purpose of causing significant public, reputation and political damage to Mr Slipper."
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