MARK BUTLER, SHADOW CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY: Thanks very much for coming out this afternoon. I want to provide an update on the tailor-made scandal surrounding forged Sydney City Council documents. Yesterday in Question Time I asked the Minister, Angus Taylor, whether he had referred the existence of these forged documents to the New South Wales police as he is required to do under section 316 of the New South Wales Crimes Act. He refused to answer that question. Later in the day I challenged either him, or the Prime Minister, to make that referral to New South Wales police and we have heard nothing from the Government.
There are potentially a number of very serious crimes involved in this scandal. Firstly it is quite clearly a serious indictable offence under section 253 of the New South Wales Crimes Act to make a document, to forge a document, with the purpose of seeking to influence the exercise of a public duty by a publicly elected official, in this case the City of Sydney Lord Mayor.
This is quite clearly a forgery. The document that was provided by Angus Taylor to The Daily Telegraph involved different formatting, different spacing, different font and obviously very different numbers to the original document that has been up on the City of Sydney council website for almost 12 months. It is quite clearly a forgery. The City of Sydney has provided metadata logs that confirm that the document that was uploaded almost 12 months ago has not been altered once in that almost 12 month period. So it is quite clearly a forgery. Someone has committed a serious indictable offence in relation to the making of that document.
The second question concerns the admission by Angus Taylor that he provided the document to The Daily Telegraph. He provided this document. Now it is an offence under the New South Wales Crimes Act, section 254, to use a forgery for the purpose of seeking to influence the exercise of a public duty by a publicly elected official, again in this case the City of Sydney Lord Mayor. There is a question to answer about the commission of an offence here as well.
Now, no one can reasonably say that Angus Taylor has not known that he was pedalling a forgery, at least for some time. At least in more recent times. Now, once he became aware he was pedalling a forgery, he was under a legal obligation to refer this matter to the New South Wales police. A failure to make that referral without reasonable excuse is also a criminal offence. It is a crime under the New South Wales Crimes Act punishable by up to 2 years in prison.
Now, none of these matters have been referred to the police by the Government as they should have been. These are incredibly serious questions to answer surrounding this scandal. A scandal that has a Cabinet Minister, Angus Taylor, right in the middle of allegations of serious criminal offences.
At the beginning of this week, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison assured all Australians that no one is above the law. That everyone is treated equally in front of the law no matter what your job, no matter what your position in society. He did that in the context of several journalists in this country being under threat of prosecution simply for doing their job. Now if those words meant anything if Scott Morrison is not a hypocrite in saying that, then these matters would now be in the hands of the New South Wales police. But instead, it appears there is one rule for all Australians and there is another rule for Scott Morrison’s Cabinet colleagues.
The public has a right to know what has happened with these crimes and because Scott Morrison and Angus Taylor won’t refer these crimes to the proper authorities Labor has called the police in. Earlier today the Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus wrote to the New South Wales Police Commissioner seeking a formal investigation of the commission of serious criminal offences under these three provisions of the New South Wales Crimes Act. We look forward to that investigation taking its proper course. Happy to take questions.
BUTLER: This is an appalling scandal. It is quite clear a forgery has been made with the purpose of trying to influence another level of Government and Angus Taylor, a Cabinet Minister who already has substantial form in a serious of scandals now that have been dogging him for months and months and months, has been up to his neck in this scandal involving criminal offences. But instead of the Prime Minister actually putting his words into action and putting this into the hands of the New South Wales police, he has shown that there is one rule for one group of Australians, Cabinet Ministers in the Morrison Government, and another rule for everyone else including the journalists who are currently under threat of prosecution for doing their jobs.
JOURNALIST: Are you saying the Minister was behind this forgery?
BUTLER: I think there are questions to answer about who is behind this forgery. The Minister and the Prime Minister should allow the New South Wales police to make those investigations. Indeed, the Minister now being aware that he has been pedalling a forged document is under a positive legal obligation to report the matter to New South Wales police and his failure to do so in and of itself is potentially a crime under the New South Wales Crimes Act.
JOURNALIST: So if the Minister is not responsible for the forgery what sort of crime will the police go for – what will they be looking for in this case?
BUTLER: Well someone has forged this document and it is proper that we find out who it was and that is properly a job for New South Wales police. Someone, a number of people have been using this document, including Angus Taylor. Using the document knowing it to be a forgery is also a criminal offence. And a failure to report the matter to New South Wales police, as I said a number of times, is also a criminal offence under Section 316 of the Crimes Act, punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment. Now, it appears that Angus Taylor has failed to make that report. That is a matter that should be investigated by the police.
JOURNALIST: And if it turns out to be someone in his office or another party what do you think should happen to Angus Taylor?
BUTLER: The law should be applied. The Prime Minister said no one is above the law, the law is applied to everyone equally in this country. And, if that means anything, then these matters should be fully dealt with by the New South Wales police with the full cooperation of Scott Morrison, Angus Taylor and all officials of the Government.
JOURNALIST: What was Angus Taylor trying to do by sending that letter to Clover Moore?
BUTLER: It is quite clear, and I think this is one matter that Angus Taylor and I would probably agree on, that he was seeking to influence the climate change policies of the Sydney City Council and the Lord Mayor in particular. That is quite apparent from his letter and the fact that he provided this forged document to The Daily Telegraph. Assuring The Daily Telegraph that it was a fair dinkum document when it clearly wasn’t.
JOURNALIST: What do you think of his due diligence of documents and other things like that?
BUTLER: At the absolute best for Angus Taylor he has failed dismally to exercise due diligence if he was given this forged document by a third-party. It’s “utegate”, it’s “Godwin Grech” all over again if you hark back to Malcolm Turnbull’s experience. But in addition to his abysmal failure to do due diligence, which is the best analysis of this situation for Angus Taylor, he has failed to report this matter to the New South Wales police which is a criminal offence.
JOURNALIST: So you’ve reported the matter to police what happens now? Have they given any indication of what line they will take?
BUTLER: We’ve only just sent the correspondence to the New South Wales Police Commissioner. Correspondence from the Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus. Obviously they will have to take some time to consider that. That is utterly reasonable.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of Joey Hockey’s comments criticising Donald Trump on trade?
BUTLER: I’m sorry I haven’t seen those comments so I can’t respond to them.
JOURNALIST: Does the Labor Party believe in free trade?
BUTLER: The Labor Party has always been a supporter of trade that lies in the interests of Australian industry and, most importantly, Australian jobs. That is why we supported the Indonesian Free Trade Agreement with the 10 amendments we were able to negotiate with the Federal Government. Conditions that protect the interests of Australian workers while also maximising the job opportunities that come with trading with a neighbour, a close neighbour of Australia, that before long will be the 4th largest economy in the world. Thanks everyone.