WEDNESDAY, 27 NOVEMBER 2019
MARK BUTLER: Yesterday the New South Wales Police launched a strike force into the possible commission of three different offences under the New South Wales Crimes Act – two of which carry a jail term of up to 10 years in prison, the third of which carries a jail term of up to 2 years in prison.
The idea that Angus Taylor can continue to serve as a Minister of the Crown while that investigation is underway makes a complete mockery of the Ministerial Standards. We’ll remember that recently when Malcolm Turnbull was the Prime Minister, Mal Brough stood aside while a police investigation concerning him was underway. Arthur Sinodinis, Malcolm Turnbull’s closet colleague, stood aside while the New South Wales ICAC investigation was underway, no police investigation. Sussan Ley stood aside as a Minister while a departmental investigation was underway into her travel expenses.
The idea that Angus Taylor can continue in office makes a complete mockery of the Ministerial Standards and shows that integrity has gone out the window under this Prime Minister.
JOURNALIST: The fact that the investigation is based solely on Labor’s complaint does that add any weight to the argument he should stay in the Ministry?
BUTLER: I’m sure it doesn’t matter for the New South Wales police whether the referral came from Federal Labor, or the City of Sydney Council, or a concerned citizen of New South Wales. Once a referral is made to the New South Wales Police they make a decision whether the circumstances warrant a formal investigation. They obviously have decided that, I’m sure without any care or consideration of where the referral came from, and they’ve launched a strike force into the possible commission of three different criminal offences under the New South Wales Crimes Act. Now I know the Prime Minister tried to make something of the fact that this started with a referral from Federal Labor, but where the referral comes from doesn’t matter a jot. The important thing is the New South Wales Police have decided that the circumstances warrant the launching of a strike force.
JOURNALIST: How do you suspect that the Minister came across these false figures?
BUTLER: The Minister needs to fess up and tell us. The only thing that is utterly clear is his claim that he directly downloaded these figures from the City of Sydney website is completely false. The metadata evidence released from the Council shows that the correct version was uploaded onto the website in November 2018 and has not been altered since. The public internet archives, the Trove database maintained by the National Library, also confirm that the correct version of the report was on the internet all through 2019. The only thing that is crystal clear is that Angus Taylor’s claim that he has repeated in the chamber is completely false. Where he got the numbers from is a complete mystery and he is going to have to fess up one day or the other.
JOURNALIST: Are you not just jumping to conclusions here. Why not wait till the investigation is done and then if there is wrongdoing he will step down?
BUTLER: Ministerial Standard 7.1 specifically empowers the Prime Minister to stand the Minister aside during an investigation around illegal or improper conduct. As I’ve said there are very clear precedents here going back many Prime Ministers, Labor and Liberal alike, but most recently I referred to precedents under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Now Scott Morrison appears to have thrown these Ministerial Standards out the window. Integrity, ministerial accountability don’t matter a jot under this Prime Minister if he’s not willing to stand aside Minister Taylor who is subject to a very serious New South Wales Police investigation.
JOURNALIST: Pretty unusual for a Prime Minister to ring a Police Commissioner about a Minister that is being investigated. Do you think the PM needs to be a bit more full circle about what he may have discussed with the Police Commissioner Fuller?
BUTLER: I don’t think any of us recall a circumstance where a Prime Minister has rung a Police Commissioner after the commencement of an investigation into one of his Ministers. That is not appropriate.
JOURNALIST: Do you think he needs to say to the Parliament what came out of that conversation?
BUTLER: We don’t think it is appropriate for a Prime Minister to ring the New South Wales Police Commissioner once an investigation into one of his Ministers has commenced. But if he is going to do it at least tell the Parliament what transpired in that conversation.