The most flattering aspect of last week’s response from Matt Brown (Robert Hill’s former chief of staff) to Crikey’s coverage of High & Dry is that he fails to address the content of my book.

The gist of Brown’s attack is that I am no Howard Government and Liberal Party insider. He picks holes not in my own bio as described in the pages of High & Dry, but in descriptions of me by journalists in recent days. In the past week I have been characterised by reporters as everything from “former greenhouse policy adviser to Robert Hill”, to “former adviser to the Prime Minister”, and even as a “former staffer to a Labor Senator”.

Some have even said I “was involved in the negotiation of the Kyoto agreement.” I have not made any such claims, and while I have tried to correct these mischaracterisations numerous times, I cannot be expected to do so ad nauseum.

For the record, I worked for Senator Ian Macdonald from 1990-1994 and again briefly at the end of 1996 when he was Robert Hill’s Parliamentary Secretary in the environment portfolio. I then worked as Robert Hill’s speechwriter from 1997-99.

I was approached for this role not by the Department as Brown implies but by Hill. Hill had no Parliamentary staff positions left so he had me hired as a consultant via the Department. Hill had wanted me to work in his Parliament House office but agreed to my request to work remotely.

I met regularly with the chief of staff who preceded Brown (even spying on the departmental executive meetings at the request of the Hill office now denying my existence). I also attended staff meetings in the Hill office, and on many occasions discussed the content of upcoming speeches in the Hill office with his policy and media advisers — including Matt Brown on numerous (apparently forgettable) occasions.

Contrary to Brown’s claims, I wrote many more than a handful of speeches for Hill, and as I recall, most were related to climate change. As well as writing speeches for Robert Hill I wrote speeches for the former head of the department, the current head of the Australian Greenhouse Office and various other senior officials.

I also did consultancy work for the department on environmental education and various other issues. More recently in a contract in late 2005 with the AGO I worked on the Howard government’s greenhouse policy in relation to carbon sinks.

To my mind, telling politicians what to say constitutes ‘advice’, but people can make their own assessments as to whether my speechwriting and other roles collectively constitute ‘former Howard government adviser’ status.

‘Damage Control 101’ dictates that the government will try to distance itself from me in light of the book, however, some observers might think it particularly odd for Robert Hill’s former chief-of-staff to attack the author of a book that speaks highly about Hill’s efforts on climate change.

Some things Brown failed to disclose give useful context. First, since leaving Hill’s office, Brown worked as a lobbyist for fossil fuel giant, Woodside Petroleum, a company that has consistently and successfully lobbied the Howard government to delay emission cuts by Australia. Second, when Brown won the Liberal pre-selection for the seat of Tangney, John Howard intervened to have that result overturned in order that Denis Jensen (one of the biggest greenhouse sceptics in the government) could remain in Parliament.

Perhaps ingratiating himself to the PM by attacking me makes a re-run of that indignity less likely. The flawed assumption in Brown’s attack is that the validity of my arguments in High & Dry somehow rests on my observations as Hill’s speechwriter when these experiences were relatively incidental to my understanding of the politics.

The content of the book is influenced much more by my subsequent work as a lobbyist for various industries with a stake in climate change, and as a researcher first at the ANU, and then in writing High & Dry. This content remains as yet unchallenged by Brown or the Howard government.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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