21 Feb. 2007

Downer paid columnist $11,300 - National - smh.com.au

Downer paid News Ltd columnist $11,300 in taxpayer funds:
THE Howard Government has paid $11,364 in taxpayer funds to the conservative News Ltd columnist Christopher Pearson to write speeches for the Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, including an address to the Hillsong Church.

Despite having more than 2000 public servants and 14 staff in Mr Downer's office, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade last week told a Senate estimates hearing it had outsourced several ministerial speeches between 2004 and 2006 to a recruitment firm, which in turn engaged Pearson.

The speeches included a July 2005 address by Mr Downer at a Hillsong service, for which Pearson was paid $4550. Other Government ministers including the Treasurer, Peter Costello, the Communications Minister, Helen Coonan, and the Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, attended the service.

The topics of other speeches written for Mr Downer by Pearson include interfaith dialogue, terrorism, regional foreign policy challenges, and economic and environmental issues.

But the department refused to pay for one speech written by Pearson for Mr Downer because it contained material that did not meet the public service's apolitical guidelines. The speech was Mr Downer's controversial Earl Page lecture in May 2005, in which he accused the Labor Party of having a history of appeasing Nazi Germany, communist Russia and Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.

Pearson, a speechwriter for Mr Howard in the 1990s, writes on politics in The Weekend Australian. His speechwriting service for Mr Downer is not disclosed.
Expect to hear more of this one!