Morrison, Porter, Fuller, Taylor: Bin mates before investigations

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

“If you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to worry about" — at least, not if you're in the Morrison Government, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.

LET ME GET this straight. The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison made a phone call to NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller, in the presence of Attorney-General Christian Porter, about an ongoing investigation. The call was regarding an investigation that has now begun into Energy Minister Angus Taylor’s use of allegedly fraudulent and greatly exaggerated Sydney City Council travel expenses, with the goal of discrediting the Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore.

Now there’s a paragraph I never imagined I’d write.

Morrison apparently asked Porter to “witness” the call. Porter has since confirmed that both Fuller and Morrison’s accounts of the call are accurate. This confirmation is unsurprising.

Taylor “leaked” the allegedly fraudulent document to the Daily Telegraph before he sent it to Clover Moore, leaving no doubt about the crass political intentions of his venture. However, Taylor’s actions remain incomprehensible, leaving onlookers to cast about for motivations. Why would a minister of the crown expend such effort in an attempt to humiliate the Sydney Mayor? Yes, the two hold very different views on climate change and what needs to be done about it, but that doesn’t explain Taylor’s actions. Moore presents no political threat to the Energy Minister and yet he took a disproportionate risk that has now backfired in ways anyone with an ounce of imagination could have foreseen.

Did no one in Taylor’s office, nor Taylor himself, notice that the alleged travel expenses were nothing less than ludicrous?

The depths of idiocy being plumbed here are breathtaking. Taylor’s refusal to release the documents pertaining to his wild allegations has only exacerbated matters. Sydney City Council has now furnished NSW Police with data logs of visits to its website, where Taylor claims he found the doctored figures used in his letter to Clover Moore. Council denies these figures ever appeared on their site and apparently, can prove this.

There is a good argument to be made for politicians being charged with wasting police time and willfully obstructing investigations when they withhold documents that, if released, would remove the need for what is – as Fuller pointed out – a resource-consuming investigation. What happens to the rest of us if we refuse to co-operate with police?

Morrison’s intervention, witnessed by Porter, has arguably already tainted the investigation, or at the very least damaged the appearance of an impartial inquiry. Both men have a vested interest in the outcome. On a two-seat majority, the Government cannot afford to lose anyone, let alone the scandal of losing a cabinet minister to fraud charges.

Morrison and Commissioner Fuller apparently have a personal relationship forged over garbage bins — though Fuller has now attempted to distance himself from any such intimacy. We now have the Prime Minister claiming a relationship the Police Commissioner denies ever existed, in which the hauling of garbage bins seems to have been a core element. It is logical that Fuller would wish to deny any such association in the current circumstances, but someone isn’t being entirely open. In phoning Fuller, did Morrison not only phone the Police Commissioner but did he also phone his friend?

The question remains, why did Morrison make the call himself when he has staff to do it for him? Again, the words "judgement" and "integrity" lurch into view. It might be appropriate to note at this point that while it is possible to make an infinite number of bad judgements, integrity is a finite resource.

Both Morrison and Fuller insist the phone call was innocuous but will not release the transcript. This is a Government that consistently justifies the introduction of increasingly savage surveillance policies with the mantra “If you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to worry about.” Clearly, this mantra does not apply to the Coalition. If there’s one thing this situation has highlighted, apart from unfathomable depths of incomprehensible stupidity, it’s the exceptionalism now claimed by the Federal Government on an almost daily basis.

Whatever information Fuller did convey to Morrison, it was sufficient for the Prime Minister to decide there were no grounds to stand Taylor down. This would seem to contradict any claims of the innocuous nature of the call and it should ring alarm bells. Obviously, the Police Commissioner did say enough – before the investigation even began – to reassure Morrison there wasn’t going to be much to it.

Commissioner Fuller’s comments read like an instruction to his officers on what their findings should be:

'"To be honest with you, I actually don’t feel as though the allegations themselves are serious… "

Imagine for a moment that you are one of those officers, and your boss has signalled to you, via the media, that there’s nothing to see here. If you find that on the contrary, there is a good deal to see, what are you going to do? Defy your boss? Make him look daft and incompetent by contradicting his feelings?

The embattled Commissioner has since declared that “You can’t influence an investigation that hasn’t started". A statement that leaves this writer entirely baffled and doubting her hearing.

It is one thing that the most senior people in the Federal Government are behaving in these ways. It’s another that they expect to get away with it. Did Taylor for one moment imagine that when Clover Moore read the letter that he sent to the Daily Telegraph she wouldn’t publicly contest his fake figures? Did he then for one moment believe he could blame the Council for faking its own figures? Did Morrison think he could have a good chat with his bin mate, the Police Commissioner, and based on that chat, decide there’s no reason to stand Taylor down, without causing an uproar about integrity and tainted investigations?

Brace yourselves for next week, when NSW Police possibly find there’s nothing to investigate. 

Dr Jennifer Wilson is a psychotherapist, academic and scholar. You can follow Jennifer on her blog No Place for Sheep or on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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