SERIAL big mouth Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh has struck again leaving Victorian taxpayers to cough up for a second defamation settlement.
The latest settlement, after legal action was taken by Environment East Gippsland, will result in tens of thousands of dollars handed over because of comments made late last year.
It follows a separate case in 2012, which led to a public apology and retraction from Mr Walsh after he made comments about a group called MyEnvironment.
In total, a government source familiar with the cases said bills for both cases could be up to $100,000 once legal costs were included.
When approached about the two cases, the usually candid Mr Walsh said he could not respond to the Herald Sun, other than to say: “It would be inappropriate for me to comment on these matters.”
A lawyer for Environment East Gippsland also said they could not comment.
It is understood strict confidentiality clauses signed between Mr Walsh and the environment groups were involved in the settlements.
Opposition Scrutiny of Government spokesman Martin Pakula said the government must come clean on exactly how much taxpayer money had been spent on these cases, however.
“It’s not appropriate or acceptable for the minister to hide behind a confidentiality clause to deny taxpayers the information that they are entitled to,” he said.
The most recent offensive comments, made against Environment East Gippsland, related to legal action involving VicForests, the government-owned logging organisation.
It is understood the comments from a press release asserted that anti-forestry groups wasted taxpayer money on litigation.
It is anticipated that Mr Walsh will be issuing a formal apology, as he did after the 2012 case.
That case, in which Mr Walsh settled with MyEnvironment, was over comments he made about Supreme Court action taken by the environment group.
After the settlement Mr Walsh published an apology and retraction, saying he had “alleged that the proceeding was brought by MyEnvironment Inc in bad faith and in an attempt to exert financial pressure on forest industry workers and their families”.
“I accept that there was no basis for the allegations against MyEnvironment Inc embodied in my media release,” he said.
Mr Walsh made the comment despite conceding later that the judge had “made an express finding that the proceeding was brought in good faith and pursued in the public interest”.
A government source said Mr Walsh had clearly not learnt his lesson after the first case.
Greens MP Greg Barber said: “On top of the millions of dollars in subsidies that prop up native forest wood chipping, there’s now also the cost of getting the Minister out of his own messes.”
Matt Johnston and James Campbell