Bondi View

Police give Moore less than expected

Fireworks: Sydney Mayor Clover Moore was falsely accused of profligate travel expenses in a forged document by Energy Minister Angus Taylor, but Police refuse to pursue the matter further. Photo: Alec Smart

by ALEC SMART

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has dropped its investigation into Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor, who used allegedly forged documents to malign Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore by claiming City of Sydney spent $15 million on travel expenses in the 2017-18 financial year – 50 times her departments’ annual budget of $300,000.

The City of Sydney was the first governing body in Australia to be certified as carbon neutral in 2011 and has offset all emissions, including airline flights, since then.

Personal attack
In Sept 2019, Taylor, the Liberal Member for Hume, launched a personal attack on Ms Moore, an independent councillor and Lord Mayor since 2004, casting aspersions on her strong commitment to environmental causes by accusing her of driving up carbon emissions with excessive airline travel.

Under Moore’s leadership, the City of Sydney has installed bicycle lanes, planted tens of thousands of trees, upgraded its car fleet to hybrids, introduced water harvesting in major parks, and installed Sydney’s largest building-based solar photovoltaic system among other green initiatives. On 6 Feb 2020 the council announced their ambition of Sydney achieving zero net carbon emissions by 2040.

On Monday 30 Sept 2019, the Daily Telegraph, under the headline “City of Sydney Council’s outlay on flights outstrips that of Australia’s foreign ministers”, published the contents of a letter sent by Taylor admonishing Ms Moore for her air travel.

Moore’s office had not yet received the letter – it arrived after the Telegraph published it where it was seen first by thousands of readers – but before the story was written a spokesperson from City of Sydney warned the female reporter researching it that the figures she intended to use were spurious.

The reporter persisted, her article stating: “Lord Mayor Clover Moore has been told by the federal government to rein in the hundreds of thousands of dollars her council is spending on international and domestic travel if she is serious about lecturing Australia on climate change..”

It continued: “City of Sydney Council’s outlay on flights outstrips that of Australia’s foreign ministers” and added Taylor’s central assertion that Sydney Council’s annual report (for 2017-18) “shows your council spent $1.7m on international travel and $14.2m on domestic travel.”

The Telegraph implied Ms Moore was a hypocrite for joining the chorus of voices last year that accepted the global scientific consensus warning the world is undergoing a climate emergency.

City of Sydney’s genuine annual report – available to view online – shows councillors spent $1,727.77 on overseas travel, not $1.7 million, and $4,206.32 on domestic travel, not $14.2 million. In total, the council spent $229,000 on travel during 2017-18, within its allocated $300,000 budget.

When Moore countered Taylor’s exaggerated claim via social media, and demanded Daily Telegraph publisher News Corp supply their source material, the female reporter wrote to Sydney Council asserting “Taylor’s office printed a copy of your annual report out on September 6… They say that the cost of interstate visits was $14.2 million and overseas visits was $1.7 million.”

“If you look online now,” the reporter continued, referring to the City of Sydney’s Nov 2018 online expenses declaration, “that report has been changed or updated to say interstate visits were $4206 and overseas visits were $1727.”

She then released the document she referred to in her article, which was immediately apparent to Moore’s office it was a doctored version of the original annual report with the real expenses profoundly inflated.

Fooled or fooling?
Either the Daily Telegraph reporter was completely fooled, thinking Taylor had sent her a genuine original expenses’ declaration that had been altered by City of Sydney to hide profligate airline travel, or she realised early on its inaccuracy but decided to publish regardless, to facilitate Mr Taylor’s belittling of Ms Moore.

When Taylor was subsequently informed that the document he supplied to the Daily Telegraph was a forgery, he initially claimed it was a conspiracy theory formulated by the Lord Mayor, retorting: “I make no apologies!”

In turn, Moore announced she was referring the Daily Telegraph to the Press Council and asked 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? … Providing false information to journalists and the public further erodes the community’s confidence in elected representatives to lead and serve.”

As the pressure built, on Thursday morning Taylor went back on the offensive, issuing a statement: “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 Women for Climate conference was an unnecessary indulgence.” (In March 2019, Moore, her chief of staff and the City’s chief executive travelled to Paris to attend the Women4Climate Summit).

It was another month before Taylor, previously the Minister for Law and Cyber Security between Dec 2017 and Aug 2018 in the Turnbull Govt, conceded he was wrong and had relied upon a forged document.

On Thurs 31 Oct Taylor sent Moore an ‘unreserved apology’ stating: “It is now clear to me that the correspondence I sent you on 29 September 2019 included numbers that were not correct. Given this, I regret not clarifying those figures with you before writing, and relying on those figures in media commentary, I apologise unreservedly.”

To counter whisperings as a result of the Telegraph article that they had altered their costings to hide profligate airline travel spending, the City of Sydney produced detailed evidence of its metadata and screenshots from the system used to manage its website.

These confirmed the publicly-available documents had not changed since they were first uploaded – with the correct and accurate figures – in November 2018.

So, who created the forged document and supplied it to Taylor’s office?

The Guardian is currently seeking a review of a Freedom of Information request that rejected documents Taylor’s office refused to release. These include one described as an email from “an external third party”, which was withheld on the grounds that it would negatively impact the business dealings of the sender.

Scandals aplenty
Angus Taylor is no stranger to scandal. For examples:

* Look at his directorship of Eastern Australia Agriculture and its 2017 sale of water licenses from two of its Queensland agricultural properties back to the Australian government at a suspiciously high price – $79 million – without public tender, yielding a profit of $52 million, from which he asserts he didn’t benefit.

* Taylor resigned as Minister for Law from Malcolm Turnbull’s cabinet due to his support for failed leadership challenger Peter Dutton, but was reinstated as Energy Minister by Scott Morrison.

* Jam Land – part owned by Taylor and his family – was investigated in 2016 when around 30 hectares of critically-endangered natural temperate grassland of the south eastern highlands was allegedly poisoned and illegally cleared at a property in Delegate, New South Wales.

* As a former member of a task force that encouraged the Victorian Govt to pursue coal seam gas fracking he spoke at an anti-wind farming gathering highly critical of wind-derived renewable energy.

* When asked about the Renewable Energy Target in June 2014, Taylor, who says he’s not a climate change sceptic, declared: “Religious belief is based on faith not facts. The new climate religion, recruiting disciples every day, has little basis on fact and everything to do with blind faith.”

* Taylor was liberal with the truth when he claimed that US feminist author Naomi Wolf lived along the same corridor on campus as him at Oxford University in 1991. After announcing they once quarrelled over Wolf’s attempt to cancel Christmas trees at the college, a battle he claims he ‘won’, Wolf revealed in Dec 2019 that she in fact studied at Oxford years earlier than Taylor, from 1985-88, and actually enjoys celebrating Xmas.

Wolf called Taylor’s accusations “anti-semitic dog-whistling,” due to Taylor’s assertion that she represented “shrill elitist voices who insist that they know what is best for people who are not remotely like them.” Wolf demanded an apology; Taylor refused.

It is unlikely Taylor would be personally foolhardy enough to doctor the City of Sydney’s audited and publicly accessible annual expenditures to suit his own agenda

So, putting aside Taylor’s office withholding an email that may or may not reveal the source of the forged expenses document, the public might expect the police to investigate and resolve the matter, and perhaps lay criminal charges for fraud.

On 26 Nov 2019, NSW Police announced they had commenced an investigation into the fraudulent documentation.

On 1 Jan 2020, NSW Police referred the investigation to the AFP, requesting an assessment of whether an offence had been committed under NSW law.

Meanwhile, Prime Minster Scott Morrison resisted calls for Taylor to be stood down during the investigation.

AFP abandon chase
On 6 Feb 2020, the AFP released a statement announcing that they declined to pursue the matter any further.

“Following inquiries undertaken and information provided by NSW Police, the AFP has 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.

“The low level of harm and the apology made by the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction 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.”

Ms Moore is disappointed in the AFP’s decision and thinks Taylor’s apology is not sufficient. The Lord Mayor told ABC radio she is still unenlightened as to how and why Taylor sourced and published the forged version of City of Sydney’s annual report, containing the false spending accounts.

“He didn’t give me any explanation about how that happened. I still don’t know why the minister did that, why he signed that letter.”

In a statement sent to City Hub, the Lord Mayor said: “It is 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.

“When the NSW Police confirmed that the document was falsified, it was the community’s expectation that the truth would surface, and that the Minister would be held accountable.

“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. Just because he ignores the facts on climate change, doesn’t mean the Minister can make up figures to distract Australians from his failure of leadership.”

The Daily Telegraph is not apologising to Moore either, and their spokesperson insisted: “The letter was newsworthy in its own right and we approached Ms Moore for comment. She disputed figures quoted in Mr Taylor’s letter. The Daily Telegraph accurately reported her response.”

Yes, but they still published a wildly inaccurate report of her department’s finances.

Taylor was pleased the AFP dropped their investigation of him and responded with an attack on the Australian Labor Party, releasing a statement blaming them for “a waste of our policing agencies’ time.”

Taylor’s defence remains that he gave the Daily Telegraph what he thought was an early version of the Sydney City Council’s annual report, before changes were made to hide excessive spending.

However, until Taylor’s office reveals the source of the forged document, they will never be completely exonerated from its authorship.

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