Prime minister Scott Morrison has refused to stand down Angus Taylor from his ministerial positions, after NSW Police commenced a formal investigation – Strike Force Garrad – into the circumstances of Taylor’s false accusations against the City of Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore and her travel expenditure.
The investigation into the “reported creation of fraudulent documentation” was confirmed by NSW Police on Tuesday, sparking immediate pressure from the federal Labor opposition in Question Time for the prime minister to stand down Taylor from his ministerial positions, who also doubles as minister for emissions reductions.
Labor said he should stand down, or be stood down, pending the results of the police investigation. Morrison refused to make any such undertaking, but told Question Time that he would wait to talk to NSW Police before considering his next move.
“I will speak directly to the NSW police and I will consider the information they provide me about this matter. And I will exercise my responsibilities under the standards once I have had the opportunity to have those discussions,” Morrison told Question Time.
Shortly after Question Time, Morrison made an additional statement to the Parliament, after the prime minister said he had discussed the matter with the NSW Police Commissioner. He said he did not think any action was required as the investigation was “based only on the allegations referred to” by the shadow attorney general.
“Based on the information provided to me by the Commissioner, I consider there is no action required by me under the [Ministerial standards],” Morrison said.
“The New South Wales police should now be left to lead their inquiries which will be considered upon their completion.”
The government’s ministerial standards require the prime minister to make a determination about a minister’s position if they become subject to a formal investigation.
“Ministers must accept that it is for the Prime Minister to decide whether and when a Minister should stand aside if that Minister becomes the subject of an official investigation of alleged illegal or improper conduct,” the ministerial standards say.
The investigation relates to a letter Taylor wrote to Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore in September, soon after the mayor’s latest climate initiative, that cited grossly inflated figures on domestic and international flights. The letter, with the false figures, were provided to Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph, which relied on the letter to publish a piece highly critical of the Sydney lord mayor.
Taylor was forced to apologise for the error, but resisted demands to explain where the incorrect figures had come from, after initially insisting that his office had found them in the City of Sydney’s annual report.
NSW Police has launched an official investigation, dubbed Strike Force Garrad, to determine whether any criminal offences have been committed.
“The NSW Police Force is in the early stages of investigating information into the reported creation of fraudulent documentation,” the statement from NSW Police says.
“Detectives from the State Crime Command’s Financial Crimes Squad have launched Strike Force Garrad to investigate the matters and determine if any criminal offences have been committed.”
After it became clear that a falsified version of the City of Sydney’s annual report had been produced, shadow attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, referred the issue to NSW Police in October, requesting an investigation of possible offences under the NSW Crimes Act.
During Question Time, Morrison, who appeared not to have known about the formal investigation, refused to indicate what decision he would make on Taylor’s future as a minister, simply saying he would “be taking advice from the New South Wales Police on any matter that they are currently looking at.”
Earlier in the week, Angus Taylor’s office rejected a freedom of information request, seeking copies of email correspondence sent within Taylor’s office, following the details of false figures being used in the letter to Clover Moore becoming public.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese sought to suspend Question Time, to pass a parliamentary motion calling for Angus Taylor to stand aside, but the motion was blocked by the Morrison government using its majority in the House of Representatives.
Albanese’s motion read in part:
“Despite the Minister’s claim, all the evidence to date is that no such document ever existed on the website, the altered document has only ever been produced by the Minister’s office and the doctored figures have only ever been used by the Minister in his official Ministerial correspondence.”
Taylor earlier claimed it was “an outrageous accusation against me by the Labor Party. But to answer the question, Mr Speaker, to answer the question, of course I’ll cooperate with any matter of this sort.”
Former assistant treasurer Arthur Sinodinos was forced to stand aside from that position in 2014 when Sinodinos was called as a witness to hearings of the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption into Liberal party donations. Former Turnbull minister Mal Brough also stood aside from his ministerial positions when he became subject to police investigations related to the James Ashby affair.