There’s nothing pretty about a book of annual reports. But for a reporter on the hunt for a yarn, a list of figures can be solid gold.
So when a page of numbers showing a council vocal on climate matters had spent a whopping $15 million on staff jet-setting around the world turned up at The Daily Telegraph, it wouldn’t have taken the editors long to decide on the following day’s page lead.
The story went that government frontbencher Angus Taylor had written to City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore to tell her to rein in council spending, referring to council’s travel expenses for 2017-18. So far, costs for 2019 have included the Lord Mayor’s trip to Paris to attend the Women4Climate Summit.
The gist of the letter was that if the city wanted to save the planet it should look at its own carbon footprint and $15 million of international and domestic flights.
In journalism lingo: “A walk-up splash.” Or page three, a least.
But in the end the report was more like a belly-flop. And someone is going to be in deep over it.
See, there was a slight problem with the figures quoted in the letter that had come from Mr Taylor’s office: they appear to be bogus.
Just how fake? Well, work out the difference between $4206.32 and $14.2 million.
If you don’t know, don’t bother asking the Minister or his staff.
It’s possible the Energy and Emission Reductions Minister’s office has reduced emissions so far staff don’t even dare use the batteries in the calculator; the figures were allegedly sent from someone there.
By lunchtime on Friday, Labor had formally requested police investigate the forged figures and what Mr Taylor knew about them.
Mr Taylor had earlier stood firm, refusing to apologise and calling the whole saga a “conspiracy theory”.
On Friday night, he issued a statement offering to apologise to the Lord Mayor. But he claimed again his office had found the figures on the City of Sydney website and insisted there was “clear evidence” that multiple versions of the annual report existed.
Here’s a quick rundown of the timeline of events:
- November 2018: Sydney council posts its financial report including details of travel expenses by councillors. Report shows councillors spent $1728 on international out-of-pocket travel costs such as meals and taxis, and domestic costs were $4206.
- March, April, June 2019: A council report still shows the same figures as version posted in November 2018.
- June 24: Sydney council declares a climate emergency.
- August 22: Lord Mayor Clover Moore writes to federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley advising her of the council’s declaration of a climate emergency. Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor is given a copy of the letter.
- September 6: The date on which Mr Taylor says his office downloaded the expenses report from the council website and prints it out.
- September 29: Mr Taylor responds to the Lord Mayor’s letter to Minister Ley, citing figures of “$1.7 million on international travel and $14.2 million on domestic travel” as evidence the council is not taking emissions seriously. The minister’s letter is leaked to The Daily Telegraph. The mayor disputes the figures but the minister’s accusation is published in the following day’s Daily Telegraph. The mayor disputes the figures publicly on social media.
- October 22: Ms Moore writes to Mr Taylor saying she is referring The Daily Telegraph to the Press Council over erroneous reporting and asking the minister for his version of events.
- October 24: Mr Taylor tells parliament of the September 6 report and stands by the claim the figures were obtained from the council’s website. City of Sydney publishes metadata, which proves its annual report documents have been available online, unchanged since November 2018. The City provides the information to The Guardian, which says it verified the metadata and timeline.
- October 25: Labor refers Mr Taylor to the NSW police commissioner saying a crime may have been committed. The Daily Telegraph says it was sent, by a spokesman for Mr Taylor, a “photo of a screen with the relevant paragraphs purporting to be from the council’s annual report”. Mr Taylor later issues a statement denying the documents had been forged or altered.
Labor has formally asked New South Wales Police to investigate an alleged forged document, used by government frontbencher Angus Taylor in a political attack against Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore @politicsabc #auspol pic.twitter.com/bKx97YbAKa
— Matthew Doran (@MattDoran91) October 25, 2019