Server timestamps: Abbott was right after all



blog It’s important for publications such as Delimiter to highlight when we’ve pushed the wrong message, and this is one of those times. Those whose brains weren’t addled by the silly season before Christmas will recall the controversy over the timestamp on a media release issued by the Coalition regarding the controversial James Ashby/Peter Slipper case. At the time it was thought that the office of Tony Abbott had fudged the timestamp to hide the Opposition Leader’s pre-knowledge of the situation, but in fact the Department of Parliamentary Services appears to have cleared Abbott of any wrongdoing, admitting that its systems haven’t been up to spec.

Local IT pro Kieran Cummings (who did quite a bit of investigative work into the original timestamp issue) posted an update on his blog in December with the DPS response and some good analysis. Some sample paragraphs:

“While this does clear Abbott’s office regarding the creation of PDFs/files on DPS servers, it does raise questions over the timing of file creations. It seems this problem has existed for some time, yet no one in Parliament House thought to correct it … For now, I will have to say that there is a lot of suspicious activity regarding IT in Abbott’s office. There is no smoking gun (as I did claim in my last post), but more of a whiff of bullshit. The fact Abbott’s office blamed servers (which is incorrect) rather than Microsoft Word, claimed it was ongoing through April, then claimed they were unaware of the problem does make me believe there is some furious track covering happening.”

Given the fact that the Department of Parliamentary Services itself recently admitted its IT systems are pretty much a complete shambles and that it has widespread problems with IT service delivery and infrastructure, we can’t say we’re surprised by the fact that it doesn’t have its timekeeping mechanisms in order. And after all, you can’t blame Abbott for not being totally across the issue — he’s no Bill Gates. Like Cummings, we personally still suspect shenanigans on this issue, but with no evidence and DPS backing Abbott’s office for now, it seems the Mad Monk is in the clear. At least until the next case of IT timestamp gremlins ;)

Image credit: Screenshot of Tony Abbott on the 7:30 Report, believed to be OK to use under fair use


  1. Don’t you know anything about publishing.
    Retractions should never receive the same coverage as the original articles it should have be a 2 sentence reply at the bottom of an unrelated topic. That is how the MSP seemed to have handled this case multiple front page headlines when it all came to light and small mid paper articles when the ruling come in.
    While the time stamp isn’t the smoking gun some wanted it to be (it does still smell fishy to me). Something is still very wrong with the whole affair.

    Welcome Back hope you had a good break.

    • I agree. Thanks Renai for posting this nice and prominently and not just updating the original article.

  2. While I am glad Delimiter takes its ‘third estate’ responsibilities seriously and puts effort into keeping politicians honest on tech policies, and their behaviour in general – and while I am no fan of Abbott or his policies – this really is one of the most back handed retractions I have ever read.

    Be more professional. There are times when principles matter. A public journal issuing a retraction is one of them. It is certainly not the place to use ad hominem epithets like “mad monk”.

    Like I said I am no fan of Abbott. I can think of few things worse for the future of this country and its institutions that an Abbott government.

    Except perhaps a press that doesn’t hold itself to the same kind of standards it demands from politicians.

      • Well when it comes to snark it all depends on your objective.

        If you just want to make yourself and those who already agree with you feel good and clever then snark rules.

        If you want to hold public figures to account, encourage debate and participation, and maybe even sway people who have different opinions to yourself, then snark is about as dumb as dumb gets.

        • You won’t get Tony to participate without high vis clothing, a hard hat and a truck or two…and maybe some picketing angry old white people who are upset Whyalla is no longer on the map…or something….

      • Might as well give up gracefully, Renai.

        Neither you nor anyone else is ever going to be able to please a majority of people on ANY political subject!

        Great to have you back, and all the rest of the gang likewise. :)

    • I greatly prefer honest snark to the faux he-said-she-said “objectivity” of the mainstream press. While many mainstream journalists still hide their identities behind a faceless corporate persona, sites like Delimiter here in Australia, or Techdirt in the US, allow the poster’s personal tone of voice to show through.

      If that means more snark, then so be it (and many of our politicians are thoroughly deserving of snark).

  3. I think there are many questions Mr Abbott needs to answer on this whole affair.
    He has to cop that, he uses that line all the time. ;)

  4. Translation: “The agency couldn’t be 110% sure of its date/time stamps, and so took the fall”.

    I would be incredibly surprised if the Department of Parliamentary Services cannot get something as simple as time stamps right. I would be less surprised if, after an enormous amount of pressure was put on the Department, it felt that being fall guy was the easiest solution as it couldn’t prove that its timestamps were not wrong (always tough, proving something 100%).

  5. I read the full article on the issue here:

    They said that “that technical staff have examined the document and believe the time stamp is incorrect”.
    “The Parliamentary Computing Network uses Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) 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.”

    There in is the issue. The “technical staff” doesn’t seem to understand that the “z” is “UTC”. It is the same thing.
    It’s even in wikipedia. “UTC is sometimes known as Zulu time”

    What I see is nothing wrong with their computers.
    What I see is, parliament staff, MP’s and other technical professionals who seem to lack knowledge and understanding in how to read timestamps.

    So back to the original Topic.
    Was Abbott right about the server timestamps? No. The timestamps were correct.
    They were not interpreted or read corrected by staff.

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