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Bring in the bins and get on the blower to the Commissioner – it’s government by bloke-ism

When he sent her a snide letter snipping about the $15.9 million her office had spent on travel in 2017-18, he must have thought it was a splendid gotcha moment.

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How else did the same letter, and the forged council document it relied on to make its claims, end up in The Daily Telegraph – where it was given treatment worthy of Watergate?

The only problem was the figures were wrong, and badly.

According to a true council document, councillors only spent about $6000 on travel in that year. They had no case to answer on the charge of carbon-emissions hypocrisy.

We don’t know yet if a crime was committed (I suspect not), but as usual the cover-up is worse.

Taylor has said he did not forge the document, and nor did anyone in his office. He had previously told Parliament the document with the dodgy figures was downloaded from the City of Sydney website.

This seems impossible, and Moore has been at pains to offer up the metadata records of the website to prove it.

Julia Gillard was called a liar for years, for much less, and yet everyone seems to be edging around that word in Taylor’s case.

We don’t have all the facts – Taylor and Prime Minister Scott Morrison are making sure of that – so it’s impossible to make a judgment. I would only observe that politicians do lie, and there is no greater motivation than self-preservation.

Which is what makes the Prime Minister’s conduct so odd.

When one of your ministers is embroiled in something, prime ministers generally create a polite distance between themselves and whatever is the scandal.

This serves a political purpose but also a democratic one – a prime minister should owe his (or her) primary loyalty to the people his cabinet serves (us). Personal or tribal loyalty to his ministers should run second.

But Morrison did the opposite this week. He refused to stand down Taylor even though, as many people pointed out, ministers have been stood down temporarily for much less.

Even worse, Morrison involved himself personally in the matter by calling the NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller to get the low-down on whether or not he should treat this thing seriously or what.

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Morrison styles himself as a get-it-done kinda guy, and what could be more forthright than picking up the phone to get to the bottom of things? It’s a major dad move: Bugger it, I’ll bloody ring him myself.

How can the instinct for self-preservation not have kicked in here? The impression the phone call created was dreadful.

The rest was mediated via blokey interviews with Ben Fordham of 2GB radio (owned by the publisher of this newspaper, Nine).

We learned that Morrison and Fuller were both residents of the Sutherland Shire, we learned that Morrison had previously quipped on Fordham’s show about bringing Fuller’s rubbish bins in, and we learned that this was most definitely just a joke. No such neighbourly act was actually committed.

Fuller went on Fordham’s show to defend the Prime Minister’s phone call as innocent, but also admitted: “To be honest with you, I actually don’t feel as though the allegations themselves are serious in terms of the things that I would normally stand up and talk about.”

The Commissioner complained that “these types of investigations” consume a lot of police resources and “are a great diverter of my time” – a criticism that was re-purposed by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to attack Labor, which made the referral to NSW police.

Fordham went on radio to decry the “witch-hunt” over the rubbish bins affair, which he said was harmless banter. Later, Morrison mis-attributed a quote about Julia Gillard to a Victorian police officer when it was actually something Ben Fordham said.

Morrison has needlessly tarnished his own integrity in defence of a minister who is clearly reluctant to reveal the whole truth.

An important point seems to have been lost among all the political game-playing, which Labor was clearly relishing, for its part.

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Taylor is the minister for emissions reduction in a government that is rightly criticised for not doing enough to meet its emissions-reduction targets.

If Taylor is relying on dodgy documents to score cheap points off Clover Moore, how can we trust him on the important issue of credible emissions reduction?

Scott Morrison seems emboldened by his impressive election victory, which history seems to have credited almost entirely to him.

But alongside the story of Morrison’s unlikely win sits the story of his parliamentary numbers. Morrison has a one-seat majority. He cannot afford any weak links, and Taylor is beginning to look a lot like one.

Twitter: @JacquelineMaley

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