Assault charges laid against former NSW deputy premier John Barilaro after he allegedly lashed out at a cameraman last year have been dismissed in a Sydney court on mental health grounds.
Barilaro’s lawyer Danny Eid told a hearing in the Downing Centre Local Court on Friday that his client had been subjected to “some filth, some absolute grubby practices” by sections of the media, and warned that a “funeral” could result if the harassment of public figures did not stop.
Barilaro was charged with assault and malicious damage in August last year after an alleged clash with a cameraman during a night out with friends in Manly on July 23. In footage from the incident, Barilaro can be seen pushing the cameraman and his camera away from him before walking away and waiting at traffic lights to cross the road.
Barilaro told radio station 2GB the following Monday morning that he had been “intruded on and harassed” since his controversial appointment to a $500,000-a-year trade commissioner post in New York became the subject of a parliamentary inquiry.
The matter had been set down for a hearing in September, but Barilaro’s lawyers applied in court on Friday for the charges to be dismissed under mental health provisions, citing two psychological reports that agreed the former Nationals leader had been suffering from depression and anxiety.
“This is a significant mental health impairment over a sustained period extending back before 2019,” Eid told the court. “So much so there has been some serious concern about his mental health.
“The last thing we would want in our society is for there to be a funeral where all the goodies come out and say if only I’d known, if only he’d spoken to me, if only she’d raised it,” he went on.
“This is a man who is significantly suffering.”
The prosecutor did not argue that there was evidence of impairment, and noted that the level of objective seriousness of the alleged assault was “relatively minor”.
However, he said, “all acts of violence need to be carefully measured as assessed”. The camera had been damaged in the incident and required repair, he said.
Magistrate Susan Horan found in Barilaro’s favour, telling the court the evidence before her was “compelling”.
She said both psychological reports identify a direct connection between Barilaro’s behaviour on the night in question and his mental health issues, which predated the incident.
On the night in question, Horan said, Barilaro was confronted by members of the press as he left a restaurant with friends and told them he didn’t want to answer questions.
Police alleged Barilaro “grabbed the front lens end of the camera” belonging to Channel Seven cameraman Matt Costello, causing a piece of the camera to fall off. He then held onto Costello’s forearm “for a few seconds”, Horan told the court.
Quoting one psychological report, she said Barilaro “perceived his life was spiralling out of control” at the time, amid “significant stressors”, including his father’s death, ministerial responsibilities, his resignation, and childhood trauma.
Barilaro has been ordered to undergo a treatment plan for 12 months, which includes court-ordered psychological appointments on a weekly basis for the first three months, and thereafter at the treating doctor’s discretion.
The decision comes as Barilaro’s conduct in office – and his latest new job pitch – have put him back in the headlines.
NSW Opposition Leader Chris Minns on Friday gave Barilaro 24 hours to explain why his office intervened in a $100 million bushfire recovery program, or he would refer the matter to the corruption watchdog.
At the same time, it’s been revealed Barilaro approached the chairman of ClubsNSW and gaming industry figures in a bid for their backing to replace chief executive Josh Landis, sacked this week after he linked Premier Dominic Perrottet’s Catholic faith to the cashless gaming crackdown.
Outside court, Barilaro hung back as his lawyer spoke to media on his behalf – but refused to comment on the latest controversies involving his client.
“I’d suggest certain sections of the media start treating people with certain boundaries because things can go sour and ugly very quickly,” he said.
The former deputy premier has “a good life ahead of him”, Eid said.
“I’m sure that with good help he’ll continue to be a productive member of the community.”
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