Our story yesterday, in which David Williamson claimed that Gerard Henderson criticised an article he wrote at the behest of the Prime Minister’s department, has sparked a flurry of email debate. Here’s the full exchange, in chronological order.

Gerard Henderson writes:
I only recently received your email. It went to a Sydney Institute general address rather than to my personal email address. I note that you did not try to contact me by phone.

Your allegation in Crikey today – and your report of what David Williamson said to Crikey – is both dishonest and defamatory. I have been writing a weekly column for almost two decades. It’s just barking mad for you, or for David Williamson, to imply that I wait each week for the Prime Minister or his Department to tell me what to write.

As to your own comment. It is true that I have supported John Howard and his government on some issues. But it is also true that I have criticised John Howard and his government on other issues. It is a matter of public record that, during his time as prime minister, Mr Howard has criticised my views in print, on the electronic media and in Parliament. It is also a matter of public record that, over the past decade, I have disagreed on occasions with both Piers Akerman and Andrew Bolt. If you did any research – rather than reprint gossip and rumour – you would know this.

If David Williamson really believes that I write at the direction of the PM’s Department then he is completely paranoid. This condition can be added to his well known existing inability to accept criticism. Mr Williamson likes laughing at others but hates anyone laughing at him.

Also, I am surprised that Crikey is so unprofessional as to print a comment by David Williamson alleging, inter alia, that I am “fed” ideas for my weekly column by the Prime Minister’s Department – the only evidence for which is an anonymous “friend who worked in the PM’s department years back.”

Eric Beecher and the Crikey team should be able to do better than this.

David Williamson responds:
Gerard, perhaps a little bit paranoid yourself? I merely said that it was odd that the Prime Minister’s department asked for the article from my agent but were very cagey about who they were and why they wanted it. I am reliably informed by someone who did work in the PM’s department that it’s common practice for the PM’s department to alert journalists to articles they may have missed that the government wants rebutted.

It doesn’t imply at all that the journalists are given instructions about what to write, but a sensible government would of course alert journalists they felt would disagree with such an article. I made it quite clear that I could never prove anything, but I still have a right to find that sort of behaviour suspicious without being called paranoid.

I have the name of the officer in the PM’s department who made the approach if anyone doubts that the approach happened. In most cases the PM’s department would just alert journalists to the article without the need to approach the author, but in this case they thought, erroneously, that the written article was an abridgement of my Rupert Hamer lecture, so they wanted the lot. So a little more of the process was revealed than normally is the case.

Your repeated assertion that I stop going on cruises to save oil and sell one of my houses to help reduce consumption is childish in the extreme. As you well know it’s going to take massive governmental and world action to do anything about the energy and environmental crisis that’s facing us. Chill out Gerard and stop biting ankles.

Gerard Henderson writes:

You seem to be taking yourself far too seriously. It’s pure self-indulgence to believe that the Howard Government, via the Prime Minister’s Department, saw the necessity to have your “Cruise Ship Australia” essay “rebutted.” Your critique of aspirational Australians was not that important. Nor was my response. The “Cruise Ship Australia” piece was replete with hyperbole and double standards and it was obvious that it would engender criticism. In your letter to The Australian on 20 October 2005 you acknowledged that you “fully expected” the “kind of response” which you “got.” Now you are suggesting that your essay would have passed without notice had it not been for the PM’s Department. Come off it.

I have never been fed any column idea from anyone in the Prime Minister’s Department. I don’t need the PM’s Department to alert me to hyperbole and intellectual pomposity – I monitor it continuously. In fact “Cruise Ship Australia” was but one of a number of sources which I used for my column which was published in The Sydney Morning Herald and The West Australian on 18 October 2005.

If you are going to sneer at people with less education than you whose only “crime” is that they aspire to the kind of life style which you already lead – then it should be obvious that some will step forward and defend Mr and Mrs Suburbia against Lord Noosa, so to speak.

As far as I am concerned this correspondence is concluded.