Embattled MP in Christmas tree furore
FORGET the whole City of Sydney doctored documents scandal - Angus Taylor is embroiled in a new kerfuffle involving a feminist, a Christmas tree and Oxford University in 1991.
The embattled Liberal minister has been accused by the prominent American author and journalist Naomi Wolf of fabricating an incident involving her.
It seems she recently became aware of the fabled tale and phoned Mr Taylor's office at Parliament House via Skype and asked an unidentified staffer to explain.
That call was apparently received at midnight Canberra time - a 20-minute video recording of which Dr Wolf uploaded to YouTube this morning.
To understand the bizarre saga, one must travel back in time to 2013 when a newly minted Member for Hume rose in the House of Representatives to deliver his maiden speech.
Towards the end of his remarks, just after outlining his wishes for his electorate - access to Asian markets for grain, meat and cherry producers, investment in schools and better mobile phone reception - Mr Taylor touched on "basic values and bedrock institutions".
And he used an anecdote from his time as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University to drive home his point.
"I first encountered political correctness as a student at Oxford," Mr Taylor said.
"It was 1991, and a young Naomi Wolf lived a couple of doors down the corridor. Several graduate students, mostly from the northeast of the US, decided we should abandon the Christmas tree in the common room because some people might be offended.
"I was astounded. 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."
Dr Wolf's issue is with the fact that she wasn't at Oxford in 1991 - she was a Rhodes Scholar between 1985 and 1988 - and never waged a war on Christmas or Christmas trees.
"I wasn't there in 1991, he couldn't have seen me, and he stated that I lived a few doors down, that's not correct … I was in New York," Dr Wolf said in her call.
On the phone call, the staffer, who is frequently drowned out by the sound of a noisy gathering in the background, said Mr Taylor had been misinterpreted.
"Let me clarify, Mr Taylor recalls seeing you at Oxford," he said in the call.
"Mr Taylor does not suggest in any way, and this clarification has been provided to Australian media who have reported on this matter, that you were campaigning against quote, unquote Christmas."
Dr Wolf requested that a clarification be made in parliament, given that's where the original claim was made.
"He publicly, verbally misstated where I was, what I was doing and implied to parliament that I was warring against Christmas," Dr Wolf said.
The staffer asked her to put the concerns in writing. She declined, later declaring: "I love Christmas."
Earlier this week when Dr Wolf became aware of the claims, she took to Twitter to criticise Mr Taylor and, in one post, accused him of an "anti-Semitic dog whistle".
A spokesman for Mr Taylor staunchly refuted the suggestion.
"Mr Taylor rejects any assertion he is anti-Semitic and in fact his own grandmother was Jewish," a spokesman told news.com.au.
"Mr Taylor did not say Naomi Wolf was one of the graduates, and was not referring to Naomi Wolf as one of the graduates."
I was a Rhodes Scholar in Oxford 1985-88. Angus Taylor recalls me in a fever dream at Oxford in 1991 among those warring on Xmas.(I was in NYC). (Plus I love Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa.) Flattered to be on this mythological hate list. Imaginary "war on Xmas" worked in US too.— Dr Naomi Wolf (@naomirwolf) December 2, 2019
Mr Taylor was at Oxford from 1991 to 1993 and maintains that he recalls meeting Dr Wolf at New College, where he was a resident.
This bizarre international brawl comes as NSW Police continue to investigate Mr Taylor over his office's involvement in the distribution of falsified documents from the City of Sydney's financial statements.
It was an attempt to embarrass Lord Mayor Clover Moore's declaration of a climate emergency by pointing out that the council had spent $15.9 million in a year on air travel.
The document was found to have been doctored; the real amount was less than $6000.
Mr Taylor denied his office forged the document, insisting it was downloaded from the City of Sydney website, and has apologised to Cr Moore.
Labor also this week attacked Mr Taylor over an alleged failure to declare an interest in a company called GFA F1.
"He is under an obligation to declare to the House and to the Prime Minister all interests in which he holds a direct or an indirect interest," Mark Butler told reporters on Monday.
"It's a serious contempt of the House."
Mr Taylor told parliament he had properly declared all financial interests.