KIERAN GILBERT: Joining me is the Shadow Climate Minister Mark Butler. Thanks so much for your time. Your focus has been on Angus Taylor last week and this week. Will Labor drop it if the New South Wales Police investigation clear him and his office of any wrongdoing?
MARK BUTLER: The New South Wales Police are obviously investigating whether or not a criminal offence has been committed under New South Wales Crimes Act: the making of this document, the use of this document, the failure to report its existence once people became aware of it. That is one issue we’ll leave the good people of the New South Wales Police to work on.
There is another question though before the Parliament and that is Angus Taylor’s repeated misleading of the Parliament about where he got the document from. It is very clear he did not get these dodgy figures from the Sydney City Council website. We’ve seen the metadata from the Council website that confirms that. We’ve got the public internet archives that all confirm that over the course of the whole of 2019 only the correct figures were up online. So there is still a very serious question about the consequences of Angus Taylor having repeatedly misled the Parliament.
GILBERT: Aren’t you pre-empting the police investigation by saying he has committed fraud, that he has doctored the document?
BUTLER: No I’m not saying that.
GILBERT: The Shadow Attorney General was saying that?
BUTLER: I’m saying it is clear from all of the evidence that someone has made this document up. Whether you look at the public internet archives or the council metadata it is crystal clear these dodgy documents did not come from the City of Sydney annual report. Someone has made this document up. There is no evidence to suggest that that was Angus Taylor, but what Angus Taylor has said is that he directly downloaded those figures from the council website and that is a mislead of Parliament. That is what we will be focused on. The other matters, well that is for the New South Wales Police.
GILBERT: Isn’t there a chance there is some innocent mistake here, that once the police look through this – we haven’t seen the outcome of their investigation – but what if there is some innocent stuff up? Because it happens.
BUTLER: Okay there is a possibility the police could find that he did download these dodgy figures from the City of Sydney website, but that would be contrary to all of the evidence we have: the council metadata, and as I said the public internet archives including the one maintained by the National Library, the Trove website database that says completely the opposite. Now if that happens well Angus Taylor may have told Parliament the truth but there is no evidence, all of the evidence so far, indicates that those dodgy figures did not come from the City of Sydney council website.
There is obviously also this other question we raised yesterday about his repeated failure to disclose interests that he holds through his partnerships or through his companies in accordance with the House of Representatives practice.
GILBERT: Often we see that Ministers will disclose something late, an oversight here or there. Are you alleging a conflict of interest in this particular matter?
BUTLER: No we are alleging a failure to comply with the rules and he’s a repeat offender. He’s failed to register his interest in Jam Land, which is the company that owned or has ownership of property that is subject to a compliance action over the alleged illegal poisoning of endangered grasslands, so-called “grass gate.” Now he has also failed to disclose his partnership’s interest in this new company, GFA F1, which they’ve held for more than five years. His statements over the last 24 hours indicate he has no intention of correcting the record. Bizarrely he says that he is only obligated to disclose “controlling interests” in companies. Now, controlling interests effectively means you control the company. So the corollary of what he says is that a Resources Minister would only be obliged to disclose the fact they have BHP shares if they have a sufficient number of those shares to control the company. That is utterly ridiculous.
GILBERT: Will you be pursing in Parliament today this other report that emerged overnight in relation to Mr Taylor’s time at Oxford University, visive his maiden speech and Naomi Wolf or is this again just an innocent recollection of one’s university days?
BUTLER: Well she was either on the eastern side of the Atlantic or on the western side of the Atlantic. She says she was on the western side of the Atlantic, nowhere near Oxford. She was at Oxford years before Angus Taylor. In 1991 when Angus Taylor says she was just up the corridor she was on a book tour for one of the most successful books published that year. So again Angus Taylor has misled the Parliament in his first speech. It’s not about his ministerial duties but it just gives you a sense that maybe this guy likes to make stuff up to concoct a myth around him as the great fighter of these culture wars that he says he was fighting at Oxford University.
GILBERT: Is there some great breach of Parliament to have a fib in your maiden speech or is it someone that just can’t recollect their uni days?
BUTLER: I think it reflects pretty poorly on him, that’s all, and I think again he has failed to correct the record. This is a guy who, when he is caught out, just won’t admit that he has done something wrong and correct the record. Over the course of the last 24 hours again, contrary to all of the evidence he says that he never said that Naomi Wolf was part of this anti-Christmas campaign.
GILBERT: You have been obviously trying to spread the political damage here to the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General and so on. But isn’t the Prime Minister showing loyalty here to one of his frontbench? Loyalty is something in this place that is a rare commodity. You’ll be supported internally if you’re doing that.
BUTLER: Loyalty is obviously a good thing, but when you’re a Prime Minister your responsibility is to enforce the rules. We’ve seen time and time again Prime Ministers take action against ministerial colleagues even when it is deeply uncomfortable for them to do so. Bob Hawke did it to one of his closest friends and colleagues Mick Young for a much, much smaller misdemeanour than the list of misdemeanours that Angus Taylor is involved in. John Howard did it with seven ministers in his first term of Prime Minister. That is what being a leader is all about; not digging in and pretending these enormous breaches of the rules don’t matter.
GILBERT: Can’t you also say that he should await due process? We’re only days away potentially from a New South Wales investigation being wrapped up?
BUTLER: Two things we’ve said. One is it is quite clear that Angus Taylor has misled the Parliament on all of the evidence and he has presented no evidence to support his contention that he has downloaded these dodgy figures from the City of Sydney website, so there is a mislead there. That is a sacking offence. There is nothing more fundamental than the obligation of Ministers to tell the truth to the Parliament. That is the bedrock of the Westminster system. As for this police investigation there is precedence under Prime Ministers Abbott and Turnbull that while an investigation is underway a Minister should be stood aside.
GILBERT: Mr Butler thank you for your time.
BUTLER: Thanks Kieran.
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