Having academic and climate activist Tim Flannery as Australian of the Year has posed an unusual challenge to Australia’s normally robustly jingoistic News Limited papers. The natural corporate inclination must have been to go soft on a gonged Australian idol, but the man’s environmental politics have thrust his head above the parapet and this week’s broiling debate on the mining of Australian coal has given the News Corp headkickers all the opportunity they need to take a swing.

A string of editorials in The Australian have mentioned Flannery by name and distorted his now very public position on coal mining. Flannery is no Bob Brown on the issue, despite the worst efforts of the Murdoch press to paint him into that corner.

”It’s just not true. Invented in fact,” says Flannery, a man responsible for ”baseless hysteria” over global warming according to Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt.

And then came today’s full frontal assault in Bolt’s paper and Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, accusing Flannery, public intellectual and author that he is, of the hitherto undereported sin of accepting money for speaking engagements:

Australian of the Year Tim Flannery is cashing in on his top gong and accusing industrial giants of running a smear campaign against him. The climate change crusader confirmed he charges US corporations up to $US50,000 for speeches, an Australian record.

“So, I’m not supposed to earn a living?” Flannery told Crikey.

“It’s a campaign. No doubt about it. My true opinions are ignored, and the effect is to smear me and undermine my integrity.”

”I think that part of the strategy in place here is to get me to expend valuable time in engaging with this stuff, thus diverting me from dealing with climate change,” says Flannery. “There’s also a risk of being dragged into litigation, which would chew up more time.

”So I intend to single mindedly get on with the job of dealing with climate change, which means treating articles like this with the lofty disdain they deserve,” says Flannery.

”Strange how some export industries are lauded, but mine, speaking and writing internationally, is not.”