Angus Taylor apologises to Clover Moore 'unreservedly' over false travel figures

Christopher Knaus and Anne Davies
Photograph: David Crosling/AAP

Angus Taylor has apologised “unreservedly” to Sydney’s lord mayor after relying on falsified figures to launch a public attack on her council’s climate record.

Clover Moore’s office received a letter on Thursday afternoon from the energy minister almost a week after he conceded he had relied on false data while publicly lambasting her for the council’s travel record.

“It is now clear to me that the correspondence I sent you on 29 September 2019 included numbers that were not correct,” Taylor wrote.

Related: Labor questions Angus Taylor's explanation to parliament over false figures

“Given this, I regret not clarifying those figures with you before writing, and relying on those figures in media commentary, I apologise unreservedly.”

The letter represents a change from Taylor’s position last week, when he refused to apologise and labelled the affair a “conspiracy theory”.

The Guardian revealed on Wednesday that Taylor’s office had relied on figures that grossly inflated the council’s expenditure on travel during a public attack over its declaration of a climate emergency earlier this year.


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.



Metadata check

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.  


Moore’s office received a letter from Taylor on 30 September criticising what the minister said was a $15m travel bill during 2017-18 and suggesting Moore could reduce the council’s carbon emissions by cutting down on international travel.

The letter had already been leaked to the Daily Telegraph, which reported the figures. The numbers, though, were incorrect. When the council queried the newspaper about the source, it provided a copy of what purported to be a council annual report it had been given by Taylor’s office.

The report had been altered to show spending of “$14.2” on domestic travel for councillors and “$1.7” on international travel. Those figures were completely different to those that appeared in the annual report published on the council’s website, which showed just $4,206.32 on domestic travel and $1,727.77 on international travel for councillors. The total travel budget for all employees was $229,000.

Taylor insists his office downloaded its copy of the report from the council’s own website. But the council produced evidence showing that its publicly-available annual reports had only ever contained accurate figures.

Related: Angus Taylor: the doctored documents mystery will weaken trust in politicians and journalism

Metadata and screenshots from the council’s content management system showed the annual reports on its website had not been changed since they were uploaded with the accurate figures 11 months ago.

The revelations prompted Labor to refer the matter to New South Wales police, asking for an investigation of whether a forgery had been created to influence the mayor in her public duties.

That referral is still being considered by NSW police. Taylor has not yet provided evidence that the document his office relied upon ever existed on the council’s website.

Instead his office has suggested that there may have been multiple versions of the document on the council’s website because the files currently online – a PDF and a Word document – have minor formatting differences. The council and Labor have rejected that explanation.