Greens Senator Bob Brown has continued his personal philanthropic crusade after it was revealed this morning he had made a secret donation to free Australian photojournalist Nigel Brennan from captivity in Somalia, just months after going public with his own plea to avoid bankruptcy.

In interviews this morning, Senator Brown refused to reveal how much he had paid Somali pirates to free Mr Brennan, the Queenslander who was held in harsh conditions for 462 days after his kidnapping last August. Reports suggest his captors were seeking between $US700,000 and $US1 million for his release alongside Canadian freelancer Amanda Lindhout.

Brown was cagey when asked about the specific amount on ABC Hobart:

I’m not…I don’t want to talk about that the moment, because the family is all important.

As a result, Nigel is free and on his way home.

However, Senator Brown’s good mate Dick Smith told ABC TV that Brown had donated a “substantial amount” to assist the ailing journalist and that he had been personally involved in the negotiations.

“The family had been raising money by selling things they owned and then they’d obviously contacted Bob Brown…and then they contacted me,” he said. Brown is believed to have taken out a “loan” to make sure the funds were available, however his office refused to confirm either the amount or the lender.

Crikey understand the negotiations were conducted in secret and the amounts were not mentioned to avoid tipping the pirates off.

Five months ago the Senator went public with his own personal plea for cash after falling $240,000 short following a protracted legal battle with Forestry Tasmania. Under the constitution, bankrupts are banned from serving in Federal Parliament. Brown said he was “inundated” with offers of support, including a $50,000 interest free loan, a $900 stimulus payment, and a cake for a raffle. Former Whitlam and Hawke government minister Tom Uren stumped up $1,000.

Crikey contacted Brown’s office this morning to ask whether the June donations had put the Senator in a stronger financial position to save Brennan. Was the general public, who were moved to support Brown over an environmental issue, effectively paying for an international ransom effort?

The Senator was tied up in Parliament but collaborator Dick Smith was less reticent.

“Not at all. Good on him, he’s a compassionate person. The Brennans couldn’t get any money and Bob came to the rescue.”

Mr Smith said a number of Rich Listers, including a prominent Queensland billionaire, had been asked for money by the Brennans but never returned their calls.

Brown has a history of wading into good causes with his wallet open. In addition to the Forestry Tasmania case, Brown and Smith joined forces in 2006 to save Recherche Bay in South West Tasmania. Following pleas from Brown, Smith stumped up $1.6 million to buy up areas at risk of development.

Smith also offered to contribute cash to avoid Brown’s bankruptcy in June, but said he never heard back from the Senator’s office after pledging his support.

“If he’s [Smith] prepared to act as guarantor, that would be terrific,” Senator Brown said at the time. All up, the Forestry Tasmania case is believed to have cost Brown $1 million.

Senator Brown promised to get back to Crikey to further explain the state of his finances this afternoon. We will update this story with any other personal mercy missions as they come to hand.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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