Justice White said his assessment took into account Mr Hockey’s limited success in relation to the SMH and The Age and the failure of his claim against The Canberra Times.
The amount is to be payable by the SMH and The Age, while his proceedings against the Canberra Times were dismissed with no order as to costs.
“Had Mr Hockey sued only on the SMH poster and the two tweets of The Age, the proceedings would have been much more confined and, possibly, may not have involved a trial at all.”
Mr Hockey failed on a number of legal and factual issues in the trial, Justice White said.
The court ruled in June that Mr Hockey was defamed in a Sydney Morning Herald poster and in two tweets by The Age which labelled him as a “Treasurer for Sale” – but dismissed his claims about the articles themselves.
Mr Hockey’s legal team had sought for Fairfax to pay the entirety of the his legal costs on an indemnity basis, while each side paid their own costs in relation to the Canberra Times publications, which were not found to be defamatory.
Alternatively, Mr Hockey’s team argued if the publications were to be assessed together, Fairfax should pay 90 to 95 per cent of Mr Hockey’s costs.
Fairfax argued Mr Hockey should pay 60 per cent of its costs. Indemnity costs would be “manifestly unfair” given Mr Hockey lost the majority of his claims.
Speaking generally, Griffith University professor Mark Pearson said speaking generally of defamation actions, prospective plaintiffs must bear in mind a victory in a defamation action did not necessarily mean a victory financially.
“Too often people’s pride and ego are driving defamation. Some people rush into action because they overlook court costs involved,” Mr Pearson said.
“It could well be that your award of damages is much less that the costs you have to pay.”
Plaintiffs also had to weigh up the risk of further damage to their reputation in pursuing legal action.
“Everything comes out in a defamation case and normally there are few winners.”