Naomi Wolf has reignited her row with Australia’s energy minister, Angus Taylor, publishing what she said was a transcript of a phone call with his office.
On Thursday morning the US author said she had recorded a call to Taylor’s parliamentary office requesting a “formal correction” to the Hansard record of his maiden speech, asking that Taylor “tell Parliament please that I was not campaigning against Xmas in any way?”
Taylor referred to Wolf in his maiden speech to parliament in 2013 while recounting an anecdote about “political correctness” and a dispute about a Christmas tree at Oxford University in 1991, when he was a Rhodes scholar.
When Wolf was alerted to the speech on Monday she pointed out that she was not at Oxford in 1991 and accused the minister of “antisemitic dogwhistling”.
On Thursday Wolf said Taylor’s staffer had told her that all media who had reported on the story had been given the advice that she was not campaigning against Christmas.
“Can I have evidence?” Wolf said. The spokesman responded: “I’m sorry, obviously we can’t prove that has been provided.”
In a series of tweets, Wolf claimed that the staffer had also told her it was a “matter of dispute” whether she was at Oxford University at the same time as Taylor.
Wolf said she told the office it couldn’t be a matter of dispute “re whether I was living ‘down the corridor’ at Oxford in 1991”.
“Spokesman: ‘Mr Taylor recalls seeing you at Oxford. He does not in any way state that you were campaigning against quote unquote Christmas.’”
In his 2013 speech Taylor said: “It was 1991, and a young Naomi Wolf lived a couple of doors down the corridor. Several graduate students, mostly from the north-east of the US, decided we should abandon the Christmas tree in the common room because some people might be offended. I was astounded.
“In our times, the world over, the foundation of democracy – free speech – and the foundation of capitalism – property rights – are being chipped away by shrill elitist voices who insist that they know what is best for people who are not remotely like them.”
The anecdote was repeated in a 2014 profile in the Australian Financial Review.
Wolf said on Monday she was “long back in the US” and no longer at Oxford by 1991.
“I was a Rhodes Scholar in Oxford 1985-88,” Wolf said. “Angus Taylor recalls me in a fever dream at Oxford in 1991 among those warring on Xmas. I was in NYC. Plus I love Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa. Flattered to be on this mythological hate list.”
“Catch that anti-Semitic dogwhistle – elitist people ‘who know what’s best for people who are not remotely like them.’ Referring to Jews like me whom Angus Taylor imagined to be among the warriors against xmas in Oxford in 1991.”
Taylor rejected the accusation he was antisemitic, with a spokesman noting that his grandmother was Jewish.
His office insisted Taylor recalled seeing Wolf at Oxford, although they clarified the minister’s speech was not referring to Wolf as one of the graduates who campaigned against the Christmas tree.
Taylor is the subject of multiple controversies, including a NSW police investigation after his office provided doctored documents to media as part of a political attack on the lord mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore.
A Senate committee this week found Taylor “consciously used his position as an MP and minister” to try to influence an investigation into clearing of grasslands at a property he and his family part-own, and recommended the prime minister order an inquiry.
Taylor’s office has been contacted for a response to Wolf’s claims.
It is not the first time an Australian federal minister has sparred with a US celebrity. In 2017 the then deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, made international headlines after he threatened to have Johnny Depp’s dogs put down when the actor bypassed customs to bring them into the country. Pistol and Boo were flown home before Joyce’s deadline.