The Australian federal police has dropped its investigation into a doctored document used by energy minister Angus Taylor to attack Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore’s record on climate change.
On Thursday the AFP confirmed it had finalised the matter because it had “determined it is unlikely further investigation will result in obtaining sufficient evidence to substantiate a Commonwealth offence”.
“The AFP assessment of this matter identified there is no evidence to indicate the minister for energy and emissions reduction was involved in falsifying information,” an AFP spokesman said.
“The low level of harm and the apology made by the [minister] to the Lord Mayor of Sydney, along with the significant level of resources required to investigate were also factored into the decision not to pursue this matter.”
Taylor welcomed the news and accused Labor of a “track record of using police referrals as a political tool”.
“The leader of the opposition [Anthony Albanese] and shadow attorney-general [Mark Dreyfus]’s pursuit of this matter is a shameful abuse of their office and a waste of our policing agencies’ time,” he said in a statement.
But Dreyfus and shadow climate change minister Mark Butler said that “serious questions remain unanswered” about the scandal because “two police investigations have now failed to clarify where Angus Taylor got his dodgy figures from”.
Clover Moore said: “I am shocked and disappointed the AFP will not further investigate the matter and shed light on a situation that has further eroded the community’s faith in the federal government.”
(June 24, 2019)
Sydney’s lord mayor, Clover Moore, declares a climate emergency, which is endorsed by the council.
(September 29, 2019)
29 September: The energy and emissions reduction minister, Angus Taylor, writes to Clover Moore, claiming the council’s annual report “shows your council spent $1.7m on international travel and $14.2m on domestic travel” in 2017-18.
(September 30, 2019)
The Daily Telegraph publishes a story on page three and online accusing Moore of hypocrisy over the council’s emissions. The story quotes a letter from Taylor which says the council spent more than $15m on domestic and international travel.
Moore disputes the Telegraph story and asks the reporter to provide evidence of this claim.
The reporter provides a page from the council’s annual report. The page contains two figures purporting to show the council spent “$14.2” in expenses on interstate travel and “$1.7” on overseas visits.
Moore checks the annual report: on page 14 it shows councillors spent $4,206.32 on interstate travel and $1,727.77 on overseas visits. Moore angrily disputes the story with Taylor via Twitter.
(October 22, 2019)
Moore writes to Taylor asking him to “ correct a stark error in your letter” saying the $15m figure was grossly inaccurate.
Moore lodges complaint with the Press Council.
The document, which contained grossly inflated travel figures for the 10 Sydney city councillors – it claimed they had spent $15m in a year – was quoted in a letter sent by Taylor to Moore on 29 September and provided to the Daily Telegraph, which used the figures in an article published the same day.
Labor referred the issue to the New South Wales police in October, questioning whether the document constituted a forgery used to influence an official in the conduct of their duty, and whether Taylor could have committed an offence by failing to report it.
The NSW police established strike force Garrad to investigate, but Taylor did not stand down, receiving the backing of Scott Morrison to stay in his ministerial position.
Morrison personally contacted the NSW police commissioner, Mick Fuller, by phone, leading to allegations, which were strongly denied, he had influenced the investigation.
In November Fuller said he believed the matter would be wrapped up in a week. “To be honest with you, I actually don’t feel as though the allegations themselves are serious, in terms of the things that I would normally stand up and talk about the types of crimes,” he said.
Evidence supplied by the council
The council has provided evidence that the documents on its website have not been changed since they were first uploaded on November 27, 2018.
It has supplied screenshots from its content management system – the system used to maintain its website - which shows the PDF version was last updated at 11:01am on November 27 2018 and the Word document was last updated at 2:53pm on the same date.
Both documents showed the accurate travel expense figures when they were first uploaded, and have not changed since.
The Guardian has corroborated this by performing its own checks of the metadata attached to the two files currently on the council’s website.
They show that the PDF document currently on the council’s website was last modified on 27 November 2018 and the Word document was created on 19 November 2018 by an executive at a creative agency, Satsuma Creative’s Kirsten Dreese.
Internet archive records
Though not conclusive, checks of the internet archive – a system that takes sporadic snapshots of websites over time – lend weight to the suggestion that the documents have not changed since they were uploaded.
Three archived versions of the council’s annual report are available and display the accurate figures in March, April, and June.
Scrutiny of formatting
The formatting and line spacing of the document used by Taylor’s office suggests it was originally a Word document, before being converted to PDF in some way.
Document lodged with minister
The City of Sydney is also obliged by local government laws to provide a copy of its annual report to the NSW Minister for Local Government. After that it is not permitted to alter the document.
Taylor has “unreservedly” apologised to Moore for relying on the falsified figures but has denied consistently that either he, or anyone in his office, altered the City of Sydney document to inflate travel expenditure. Taylor has said the document with the incorrect numbers was obtained from the council website.
But the council has produced evidence showing that its publicly available annual reports has only ever contained accurate figures. Metadata and screenshots from the council’s content management system showed the annual reports on its website had not been changed since they were originally uploaded.
In a statement Dreyfus and Butler noted Taylor had assured parliament the fabricated report was “directly downloaded” from the City of Sydney Council website but public archives show “the correct version of the report was on the internet all through 2019”.
“If Angus Taylor continues to refuse to come clean, then the prime minister must order a proper, independent and transparent investigation into his minister, and commit to making the findings public.”
Moore said it was “nearly beyond belief that the minster is still, after months of intense scrutiny, yet to explain the origin of the fraudulent document he used to accuse the City of egregious spending on travel”.