DPS investigates Abbott's office, finds problem with timestamp

Summary:The Department of Parliamentary Services is backing the office of the Opposition Leader in claims that a press release time discrepancy is due to a timestamp issue, but the cause remains unknown.

Federal Parliament computer staff have examined a computer in Australian Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's office that was used to draft a statement about James Ashby's court action against then-Speaker Peter Slipper.

Mr Abbott's office had asked the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) to investigate the matter after questions were raised about whether he or his office had prior knowledge about the application lodged on April 20, 2012, before the story broke the next day.

Mr Abbott has insisted that he was not aware of the details of court documents containing sexual harassment allegations lodged by Mr Ashby against his boss ,Mr Slipper, until it was reported in The Daily Telegraph.

The issue has since caught the attention of technical specialists, bloggers, columnists, and online news sites.

As AAP reported last Thursday, the metadata behind the final press release that was sent to media outlets indicated that it was "created" at 11.08 p.m. on Friday, April 20.

Mr Abbott's statement was emailed to the media at 9.17 a.m. on Saturday, April 21 — a 10-hour time gap.

The DPS told AAP on Monday that its investigation had identified problems with the date stamps on the computer involved, but the department did not know the cause.

"The date stamp on the document in question is incorrect. The press release was created on April 21," a spokeswoman said.

DPS technical staff have said that the original Microsoft Word document was saved at 9.07 a.m. on April 21, and then converted to a PDF at 9.08 a.m.

"The time on the date stamp is 10 hours behind AEST due to a technical problem," the spokeswoman said. "The Parliamentary Computing Network uses Coordinated Universal Time on its computers. Normally, the time stamp format for this is 'UTC time + offset for local time zone'."

"In this case, the local time information was replaced by a 'z'. As a result, the offset for the local time zone wasn't factored in."

The spokeswoman said that the same problem had occurred on other documents created on the same computer and that the DPS was still investigating the cause.

She said that it was the first time a problem with date stamps on documents created by computers used in Parliament House had been brought to the attention of the DPS.

The problem was not reported by Mr Abbott's office in April.

His office was unaware of any discrepancies until contacted last week by AAP.

Topics: Government : AU

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