I’m happy to accept your invitation to respond to Mark
Latham’s slur against me. It is completely and utterly untrue.

I received documents from a number of sources in
researching the series of reports for TheSydney Morning Herald in 2002 that led
to the then Revenue Minister, Senator Helen Coonan, and her husband paying about
$25,000 in back taxes on their holiday home on Sydney’s Pittwater. None of them
came from her garbage bin, nor did I ever, or would I ever “rummage through
other people’s garbage” for a story, as Mr Latham asserts in his
book.

Mr Latham has egregiously embellished details of my
visit to Senator Coonan’s property to support his claim that “even the better
ones in the press gallery” act unethically.

The facts are these: as a first step in my research, I
went to the holiday home to establish that I had the right place. I knocked on
the door. No-one was home. On my way out of the property I noticed a pile of old
magazines on the footpath, apparently for collection. On top was an Economist
magazine bearing the Minister’s name and her home address in Woollahra. That
told me I had the right place. I picked it up and put it in my bag.

This is not “rifling through a minister’s garbage bin.”
It is picking a magazine up off the footpath.

Mr Latham has revealed himself in his diaries as one of
my sources for that series of reports. I told him of my visit to the minister’s
holiday home when I returned to Canberra, including finding the magazine. I do
not recall sharing any documents with him, but that may have happened.
Politicians and journalists share documents on a daily basis. But I can state
without qualification that no document came from any garbage
bin.

I’ve always believed journalists should not be precious
– particularly political journalists. We dish it out to pollies on a daily
basis, and should be prepared to accept criticism in return.

Mr Latham’s slur, however, is not valid criticism. It is
a total misrepresentation of the truth, which he is using to sell a
book.

Peter Fray

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