Angus Taylor has confirmed he has not yet been interviewed by detectives from Strike Force Garrad, as the Speaker, Tony Smith, threw out a question about an erroneous claim in the minister’s first speech that he was at Oxford University with the American author Naomi Wolf.
Labor on Tuesday resumed its pursuit of the minister for emissions reduction, who faces an investigation by the New South Wales police about a doctored annual report that formed the basis of a misjudged political attack Taylor made against the Sydney lord mayor, Clover Moore.
Police have contacted the City of Sydney requesting information about downloads of its 2017-18 annual report. Taylor was asked in parliament on Tuesday whether he had been interviewed by detectives. The minister replied: “No.”
The minister was also asked by the manager of opposition business, Tony Burke, about a comment from his first speech when “he claimed that Naomi Wolf was living a few doors down the corridor [at Oxford University], when, in fact, she was on the other side of the Atlantic ocean”.
“Given that the minister has been misleading the parliament since the day he arrived, is he proud of his consistency, that he has continued his career as he began it?” Burke asked. The House Speaker, Tony Smith, called the next question.
The Morrison government on Tuesday also refused to provide information to parliament about a controversial phone call the prime minister made last week to the NSW police commissioner, Mick Fuller, concerning the substance of the investigation into the dodgy document.
The prime minister was asked why the government was unwilling to provide documents to the parliament on the basis there was an ongoing police investigation but was “willing to background journalists to downplay the nature and the substance of that strike force”?
Morrison hit back. “I advise the members opposite this is question time, not smear time.” The prime minister said Labor in government had sought an exemption from the requirement to provide documents and now wanted the government to be held to a different standard.
“The leader of the opposition wants to apply standards to the government that he’s not prepared to apply to himself, Mr Speaker,” the prime minister said. “What I want to know is if the leader of the opposition is prepared to come into this place and hold himself to the same standard – and if he doesn’t, he’s just the hypocrite people know him to be”.
Labor also continued to pursue the attorney general, Christian Porter, who witnessed the call Morrison made to Fuller last week. Porter was asked how this call was appropriate, and the attorney-general rounded on his opposite number, Mark Dreyfus. “My judgment is [the call] was appropriate ... your judgment is just simply awful”.
In his final address to caucus members for 2019, the Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, declared the opposition would continue to pursue the Taylor controversy, dubbing it Morrison’s “Angus Horribilus”.
Albanese said the test for whether Taylor should remain in the ministry wasn’t “whether a crime has been committed although that’s being investigated by the Strike Force Garrad”.
“The test is, has he misled parliament? That’s the test to be a minister.”
Taylor has denied consistently that either he, or anyone in his office, altered a City of Sydney document to inflate travel expenditure. Taylor has said the document with the incorrect numbers was obtained from the council website.
But the council has produced evidence showing that its publicly available annual reports has only ever contained accurate figures. Metadata and screenshots from the council’s content management system showed the annual reports on its website had not been changed since they were uploaded with the accurate figures 11 months ago.
The differing accounts prompted Labor to refer the matter to NSW police, asking for an investigation into whether a forgery had been created to influence the mayor in her public duties.
In relation to the anecdote in Taylor’s first speech about Wolf – which has been rejected by the author – the now minister said: “I first encountered political correctness as a student at Oxford.
“It was 1991, and a young Naomi Wolf lived a couple of doors down the corridor. Several graduate students, mostly from the north-east of the US, decided we should abandon the Christmas tree in the common room because some people might be offended.
“My friends from Oklahoma, Alaska and Oregon explained this new kind of moral vanity that was taking hold in America. A few of us pushed back hard. In the end we won, because we were mainstream … [Our rights] are being chipped away by shrill elitist voices who insist that they know what is best for people who are not remotely like them.”
Wolf said she was not at Oxford in 1991. She said she “loves Christmas” and accused Taylor of antisemitic dog-whistling. Taylor’s spokesman said the minister did not say that Wolf was one of the graduates who had argued about the Christmas tree and was not referring to Wolf as one of the graduates. He also said Taylor “rejects any assertion he is anti-Semitic”.
“In fact, his own grandmother was Jewish,” the spokesman said.