The Commonwealth Ombudsman will scrutinise the Australian Federal Police (AFP) over its own investigation into how federal minister Angus Taylor put his name to an allegedly forged document to discredit Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore.
Taylor, the energy minister, has been proclaiming his innocence in the dodgy documents affair by pointing out that two police forces have looked at it and concluded there was nothing to prosecute.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman has confirmed to Crikey that it has started an investigation into the AFP “following receipt of complaints from members of the public”.
Details are scant: “The Ombudsman investigates in private,” the Ombudsman’s office said, “however in general terms the investigation will look at the administrative decisions the AFP made and actions they took. It will consider if these were lawful, reasonable and just in all the circumstances.”
Crikey understands the Ombudsman received more than 100 complaints about the AFP’s decision in early February to finalise its investigation into Taylor and his office.
In giving its reasons, the AFP said there was “no evidence” to indicate Taylor was involved in falsifying information and that further investigation was “unlikely” to find sufficient evidence “to substantiate a Commonwealth offence”. The AFP cited other factors including “the low level of harm”, the fact that Taylor had made an apology and that a “significant level of resources” would be required for an investigation.
It has since emerged that the AFP did not interview Taylor or Clover Moore before dropping the case.
Moore questioned the AFP’s independence, alleging it was “not prepared to take on a federal minister for a mayor of a city”.
However this is a movie we’ve seen before — and there’s no guarantee there’ll be any change or that we’ll be any wiser at the end of it.
In correspondence posted online by one complainant, the Ombudsman warned it had no legal authority to override the AFP’s decision or to compel the AFP to take “specific actions”.
If AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw’s performance at Senate estimates hearings earlier this month is any guide then it’s unlikely the AFP will willingly roll over.
Kershaw said the decision to close the case was considered and objective, and that it would not be re-opened. “The matter is finalised. Full stop,” he told senators who pressed to know more.
In 2015, the Ombudsman inquired into the AFP’s decision not to investigate then-speaker of the House of Representatives Bronwyn Bishop over her use of taxpayers’ money to charter a helicopter to travel to a Liberal Party fundraiser.
The AFP refused to investigate on the grounds that Bishop’s actions were covered by a get-out-of-jail-free card in the form of a protocol introduced by former Liberal senator Nick Minchin, which allowed bureaucrats to arbitrate on allegations of wrongdoing and allowed MPs to quietly repay funds.
Crikey asked the Ombudsman for the result of that investigation but was told the Ombudsman “investigates in private” and was “not in position to comment on the outcomes of earlier investigations”.