Most of this detail isn’t going to stop barbecues. But it’s a fair bet most voters wouldn’t look too kindly on a cabinet minister or someone in his office doctoring a document for a political hit job. After all, it’s a crime.
The Australian Federal Police says there is “no evidence” Taylor himself was involved in falsifying information. But it also says that it can’t justify investigating further. The matter involves a “low level of harm”, the AFP says, and Taylor has already apologised. Plus it would divert a lot of police resources.
There’s an element of truth here. Arguably the harm to Moore – who enjoys a huge platform to hit back at Taylor and would have emerged from this furore even more saintly in the eyes of most city residents – was pretty minimal.
But there’s another harm at play here – the harm to the system, its integrity and the community’s perception of its integrity. These have been chipped away by successive instances in which the AFP seems gung-ho when it comes to protecting government information and shy when it comes to investigations that might implicate or otherwise embarrass the government.
Remember, the AFP kept ABC journalists Dan Oakes and Sam Clark under the microscope for years in relation to leaks of classified defence information. Their case remains open, along with that of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst (also in relation to leaks).
Meanwhile, just like the Taylor case, the AFP dropped an investigation into who leaked classified information to The Australian, which the government then used to discredit the “medevac” bill. The AFP said there were low prospects of identifying a suspect.
That may very well be true. But it’s no wonder voters might look at this tally and conclude there are a few too many coincidences.
So we’ll never know if there was criminal foul play involved here, or whether perhaps some crank constituent faked a document that Taylor’s crew were simply too sloppy or negligent to check.
Meanwhile Taylor escapes, remaining in cabinet. If there are questions over his future, they are more to do with his capacity to deliver on both streams of his portfolio: energy and emissions reduction. As one irate colleague opined prior to the dreadful Black Summer: “We have a minister for emissions reduction who doesn’t want to talk about reducing emissions.”
And the lucky Manuatu progresses into a new gig as the registered officer of the Liberal Party’s ACT division. A former aide to Liberal senator Eric Abetz, he has long had his eye on the job of party director in the bush capital, and that ambition appears undiminished by the scandal.
There’s an underlying, unsaid assumption in all this: that whatever happened might have been a little grubby, but at the end of the day, it’s just how politics works. People are always going to cook books and fudge figures. Go stop some real crimes.
Obviously we should have little sympathy for that kind of cynicism. Not to mention that the Taylor affair highlights a crucial aspect of the politics-media nexus, which is the close and co-dependent relationship between political operatives and their enabling journalists, and the ease with which “information” can be published with little to no verification.
It’s a pity, then, that there appears to be no pathway that gets us to the bottom of this mystery. We may have to wait for Manuatu’s memoirs.
And if it’s the case that it’s all too dull or inconsequential for the AFP to bother with, then it only goes to show how badly we need a national body to deal with situations like this, and corruption and dodginess in all its forms. Until then, they’ll just keep getting away with it.
Michael Koziol is The Sun-Herald’s deputy editor.
Michael Koziol is a political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.