Angus Taylor demands Naomi Wolf apologise for accusing him of antisemitism

By Katharine Murphy Political editor

Angus Taylor has doubled down on his assertion he saw and met the American author Naomi Wolf during his time at Oxford University, while demanding she apologise for accusing him of antisemitism.

In a rowdy and rancorous final question time for 2019, the embattled minister for emissions reduction shrugged off a request from Wolf that he formally correct the Hansard record of his first speech, where he recalled the author living “a couple of doors down the corridor” at Oxford in 1991, and also recounted an anecdote about graduate students, mostly from the north-east of America, “deciding we should abandon the Christmas tree in the common room because some people might be offended”.

Wolf insists she did not live at Oxford in 1991, and was not part of any move by students to cancel Christmas. The author contacted Taylor’s office on Wednesday night in an effort to extract a correction.

On Thursday she expressed astonishment that Taylor had demanded an apology from her. “I have to say I’m quite taken aback by what you’re telling me,” Wolf told the ABC on Thursday. “I think it’s very inappropriate, and very wrong.”

Taylor – who has been under intense pressure during the final two sitting weeks of the year because of a police investigation into a doctored document deployed in a political attack he launched against the Sydney lord mayor, Clover Moore – was asked during the final question time why he wouldn’t correct the record about Wolf.

Rather than retreating and issuing a correction, Taylor dug in, although his locution was slightly different on Thursday to the description in his first speech. “Of course I recall seeing and meeting Ms Wolf at New College in Oxford during my time there,” the minister told parliament.

“She began her studies there in the mid-80s and she finished at Oxford only a couple of years ago.” Taylor also demanded Wolf apologise to him for her claim that he had engaged in “antisemitic dog whistling” for associating her with students campaigning against Christmas.

“Now my speech to the parliament six years ago did not say she was involved in the war on Christmas,” Taylor said.

“I want to say this, her accusation of antisemitism is wrong and deeply offensive to me and my family. Mr Speaker, my grandmother was Jewish and my belief in Judeo-Christian values is deeply held. I call for her to apologise for these unsubstantiated and outrageous accusations.”

Wolf said on Thursday she did not live down the hall from Taylor in 1991, she lived in New York, and spent much of that year on a book tour. She also said she had never campaigned against Christmas, and she stood by her argument that the anecdote in Taylor’s first speech was antisemitic. “I stand by what I said.”

“I really object to my name and reputation being misused by an elected official to tell a false story,” she said. “I do think it was inappropriate to say I was somewhere I wasn’t, doing something I wasn’t doing.”

She said to the best of her recollection she had never met Taylor. “I didn’t know who he was until three days ago when I was alerted to these lies about me.

“I didn’t pick this fight, [he] decided to say things about me that are simply and categorically not true. It’s up to him as an elected official to correct the record.”

The public fight between Taylor and Wolf came on a particularly rancorous final day in the parliament. The House of Representatives chamber was suspended briefly just before question time after Labor objected to the Morrison government gagging debate on an amended version of a union integrity bill that was defeated in the Senate last week.

Labor used question time to ask the prime minister repeatedly why he believed the normal rules of accountability did not apply to him. One question put to the prime minister cited the gagging of the union bill, misleading parliament, phoning the New South Wales police commissioner during the investigation into Taylor and inviting the Hillsong pastor Brian Houston to the White House.

Scott Morrison hit back, declaring it was “question time, not smear time”. He also accused Labor of attacking his Christian faith.

In the melee, Taylor accused Labor of attaching itself to Wolf’santisemitic accusations” and that “shows just how low they’re prepared to go”. Labor demanded Taylor withdraw and the minister complied.

In relation to the doctored document deployed against Moore, Taylor has said repeatedly, including in parliament this week, that neither he, nor “any members of my staff, altered the [council] documents in question”. The minister said he will cooperate with the police investigation.

Federal parliament rose for the summer on Thursday night and will return next February.