The City of Sydney has produced evidence to back up its insistence that it never altered a document to introduce the false figures used by Angus Taylor in an attack on the lord mayor over her travel-related emissions.
The evidence places further pressure on the office of the energy minister to explain how the false figures came to be in the document he used to launch the extraordinary attack on Clover Moore last month. On Thursday Taylor labelled the affair a “conspiracy theory being perpetrated by the lord mayor” and accused her of “hollow virtue-signalling” on emissions.
The Guardian revealed on Wednesday that Taylor sent Moore a letter, which was received on 30 September, criticising what he said was a $15m travel bill during 2017-18 and suggesting she could reduce the council’s carbon emissions by cutting down on international travel.
The letter was reported in the Daily Telegraph the same day. After Moore queried the $15m figure with the Telegraph, it justified its story using a document from the minister’s office purporting to be a page of the City of Sydney’s annual report.
It showed figures which seemed to align with those quoted in Taylor’s letter: namely “$14.2” on domestic travel for councillors and “$1.7” on international travel. But those are entirely different to the figures that appear in the annual report as published on the council’s website.
The annual report online shows on page 14 that the council spent 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.
The one-page document provided to the Telegraph also has strange formatting in the paragraphs in question, which does not accord with the format used in the rest of the figures in the annual report.
Emails between the council and the Telegraph show that Taylor’s office said it downloaded its erroneous document from the council’s website on 6 September 2019.
But the council has now provided evidence to the Guardian that it had not altered the publicly available version of its annual report at any point since it was uploaded with the correct figures in November 2018. That evidence includes emailed advice from its IT department and screenshots of its content management system.
“Metadata logs prove that the City’s annual report documents, both PDF and Word versions, were uploaded on 27 November 2018 and not updated after that date,” a council spokesman 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.
“The documents have not been removed, altered or substituted at any time. The same files that were uploaded and made available to the public in 2018 are the files that are publicly available on the City’s website today,” he said.
The Guardian has corroborated this through its own analysis of the metadata on the PDF and Word versions currently on the council’s website.
It is unclear who altered the document. There is no suggestion that Taylor himself was responsible.
Taylor has refused to answer any specific questions about the controversy.
Instead he issued a short statement saying: “I make no apology for suggesting that the lord mayor should take real and meaningful action to reduce the City of Sydney’s carbon emissions instead of hollow virtue-signalling through letters.
“One way to reduce emissions is through limiting unnecessary air travel and I suggest that the lord mayor’s flights to Paris for the Women4Climate conference was an unnecessary indulgence.”
The City of Sydney employed 1,837 staff at 30 June 2018, including childcare workers, parking inspectors, rangers and planning staff. Each staff member would have had to spend an average of $8,165 on travel during 2017-18 to rack up the $15m travel bill claimed by Taylor in his letter.
An angry Moore queried Taylor’s figures on Twitter on the day they appeared in the Telegraph and wrote to him directly on 22 October.
She received a copy of the altered document from the Telegraph, which said it had got it from Taylor’s office.
“I want to provide you with the opportunity to respond,” Moore wrote to Taylor. “Could you verify the Daily Telegraph’s claims that the erroneous documents originated in your office, or is my office being misled by the newspaper’s journalists?”
Moore has lodged a complaint with the Press Council over the Telegraph report. The Telegraph has reported on the controversy, saying it had not received answers from Taylor’s office about the origins of the altered document.
The City of Sydney is at the forefront of councils reducing emissions through carbon offsets, moving to renewable energy and cutting its usage. It says its carbon emissions from operations are currently 25% below its 2006 baseline.
The Women4Climate conference will be held in Sydney in 2020.