Prime Minister Scott Morrison stood by Taylor in parliament today, and admitted to contacting NSW Police Mick Fuller to gather information pertaining to the matter.
“Based on the information provided to me by the commissioner, I consider there is no action required by me under clauses 7.1 and 7.2,” the Prime Minister said, referring to the government’s own ministerial standards. “The NSW police should now be left to complete their inquiries which will be considered upon their completion.”
The events trace back to 24 June 2019 when Clover Moore, City of Sydney’s Lord Mayor, declared a climate emergency endorsed by the council. More than three months later, Taylor pens a letter in response to Moore’s declaration suggesting her council should consider reducing its own emissions rather than grandstanding with a virtue-signalling declaration. In Taylor’s response the minister claimed Moore’s council “spent $1.7m on international travel and $14.2m on domestic travel.”
In reality, the council’s annual report from which Taylor claims the figures were taken show the councillors actually spent $4,206.32 on interstate travel and $1,727.77 on overseas visits. This means Taylor’s claims were only off by $15,894,065.90, evidently Taylor assumed Sydney’s councillors travelled to Melbourne to watch Swans away games approximately 135,000 times in the calendar year.
Incredibly, these inordinate figures failed to arouse the suspicion of Taylor or his office. In fact, instead of wondering how the City of Sydney council might’ve accrued $15 million in travel expenses without having established a new suburb on the moon, Taylor decided to pass his grossly exaggerated and tardily opportunistic response to The Daily Telegraph.
Sydney’s Daily Telegraph subsequently published the inflated figures arousing a strop dispute from Moore, who asked the Telegraph’s reporter for evidence. The reporter subsequently supplied a page of the council’s annual report she claims was given to her by Taylor’s office. To Moore’s surprise the reporter’s page carries the inflated figures while the council’s published edition reports the actual figures. The Council supplied evidence from its systems to the Guardian showing that its documents had not been edited since their original publication in November 2018.
Moore disputed the story with Taylor via Twitter before lodging a complaint with the Press Council and writing a letter to Taylor asking him to “correct a stark error in your letter.”
Taylor eventually apologised for relying on inaccurate figures to attack Moore, but insisted he downloaded the document from the council’s website and could provide evidence that multiple versions of the annual report existed at various times, suggesting an erroneous file must’ve existed at some point.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese pursued the energy minister on the matter again today in Parliament. “On 24 October 2019, the minister told the House that the document was drawn directly from the City of Sydney’s website;” Albanese set out in a motion to the House of Representatives. “Despite the minister’s claim, all the evidence to date is that no such documents ever existed on the website, the altered document has only ever been produced by the minister’s office and the doctored figures have only ever been used by the minister in his official ministerial correspondence.”
Smelling enough blood to encourage sharks to evolve legs and run to Canberra, the Labor Party itself referred the matter to the NSW Police whose State Crime Command’s Financial Crimes Squad launched Strike Force Garrad to investigate the alleged creation of fraudulent documentation.
Despite attacks from across the House, Prime Minister Morrison is standing by Taylor as criticism continues to mount. Last week, centrist political commentator Peter van Onselen noted on the Channel 10 podcast The Professor and the Hack, which he co-hosts with Hugh Riminton that Taylor is clearly the government’s “most incompetent minister”. In light of the ongoing scandal not an unfair assessment, and particularly bad for the energy sector currently facing an unprecedented rate of change. Last week’s COAG meeting of energy ministers was something of a success for Taylor in its adoption of a technology-neutral national hydrogen strategy.