Controversial columnist and think tank director Gerard Henderson is threatening to sue a university publisher over comments about him in a new book published this week.  

The War on Democracy: Conservative Opinion in the Australian Press (University of Western Australia Press) was always bound to get a few columnists hot under the collar. Authors Niall Lucy and Steve Mickler take aim at all the usual suspects: Miranda Devine, Andrew Bolt, Janet Albrechtsen, Christopher Pearson, et al.

But Henderson is apparently fuming over the chapter devoted to him, “Gerard Henderson and Asbestos”.

On Friday, he contacted UWA Press, telling the publisher that he would take legal action if they didn’t withdraw the book from sale. Director Terri-ann White refused, saying she stands by the book. Since then, she hasn’t heard anything further from Henderson (the book was available in stores yesterday).

It’s understood that Henderson believes some of the book’s discussion of his dual role as a columnist and director of The Sydney Institute is “grossly defamatory”. Henderson declined to comment when Crikey called him today – but there are several aspects of the book that could have infuriated him.

Lucy and Mickler raise that old hoary chestnut about where The Sydney Institute’s funding comes from. But the authors go further, drawing what they see as a possible link between the fact that the chairman of James Hardie Industries, Meredith Hellicar, is also chair of The Sydney Institute and their claim that Henderson has never written about the James Hardie asbestos controversy. In their words, his approach to the issue has been “absolute deafening silence.”

They ask: “Should we wonder whether Henderson’s independence as ‘one of Australia’s leading political and social commentators’ reaches its limit at this point, simply because the Chair of Henderson’s Board was also Hardie’s Chair? Might there be other links because of this?”

The authors also contend that when they asked Henderson if there is a link between The Sydney Institute and the views expressed in his columns, he replied “there is none”.

At a later point in the book, Lucy and Mickler criticise Henderson’s defence of Prince Harry following the Swastika-wearing incident:

…what could possibly be said about the Nazi swastika except that it’s a powerful and unequivocal symbol of violence, intolerance, racism and oppression – a nakedly self-serving sign of unjustifiably anti-democratic white power and privilege? Who in their right mind would want to be associated with defending it today? That’s not to say that Henderson comes to the defence of Nazism, but certainly he defends Prince Harry for wearing a swastika armband on the grounds that criticism of those who wear or display the hammer and sickle is prevented (he infers) only by left-dominated ‘political correctness'”. 

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey