David Coleman, Melissa Price and Angus Taylor might sound like the first six words spat out by a “random white people name generator”, but they are also, would you believe, government ministers. And despite being about as visible as D.B. Cooper, they have inherited some of the most politically sensitive portfolios (immigration, environment and energy respectively) in Australia. Previously, these were held by the far more high-profile Peter Dutton and Josh Frydenberg. Almost as though the Coalition just wanted to talk about other stuff for a while? It has had, as we shall see, mixed results.
So, what have they been up to in the last two months?
Angus Taylor showed early on he had what it took to be in Scott Morrison’s cabinet renaming the energy portfolio in Morrison-speak: the “minister for getting electricity prices down“.
Taylor’s first speech as minister — at a small business summit in Sydney, set the tone of his approach, and that of the whole trio. After his speech — during which he denied he was a climate sceptic — he barricaded himself in the ironically named “media room” with all the doors closed for roughly half an hour before ducking out a backdoor as quickly as he could. “Farcical” was how our tipster at the event put it.
Despite his efforts, he’s not quite been able to stay out of the public eye, partly because the states — New South Wales in particular — are in more or less open revolt again the government’s energy policy. Tempers flared at the COAG energy meeting over Taylor’s use of obscure procedural rules to killed the NSW government’s push for a new national energy and emissions policy. He was, according to an insider, “sweating blood”.
Melissa Price is the political equivalent of a civil defence siren: if you’re hearing from her, it’s never good news. She spent her first months as environment minister in a country blissfully unaware we had one. Then, briefly, everyone had heard of her, and it all went to hell. According to Labor Senator Pat Dodson, Price approached a table where he was was dining with former Kiribati president and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Anote Tong and said “I know why you’re here. It is for the cash. For the Pacific it’s always about the cash. I have my chequebook here. How much do you want?”
Her initial 100% denial grew more and more equivocal, with her eventually offering Tong a real half apology “What I said to him is I don’t agree with the words that were reflected in the letter,” she said. “But if — if — I have caused any concern then I’m very sorry about that. And he accepted my apology.”
A week or so of fairly inept question time performances later, and the story faded. While it couldn’t get worse than that, it’s hardly improved, with Price publicly feuding with former international development minister and human negroni Concetta Fierravanti-Wells over the latter’s comments she was an “L-Plate” minister damaging the government’s good work.
And today, she had to release carbon emission figures that contradict Morrison’s recent contention that Australia would make it’s Paris agrement targets “at a canter”.
The pair above could really take a lesson from our new immigration minister. There are members of witness protection programs who give more public speeches than David Coleman. Deep Throat did more on-the-record interviews. There are more photos of Robert Johnson and more footage of Bigfoot. And this is a man who’s just taken over immigration, one of the most controversial and poisonous portfolios in Australia. Since 2013, immigration has launched Peter Dutton and Scott “Steven Bradbury” Morrison into the public consciousness/disdain.
Yet Coleman has presented a microdot target approach, parroting a few government talking points in question time or on Sky about how Labor will dismantle offshore processing, but he has stayed remarkably low profile and scandal free. Presumably freeing him up to work on that follow-up to Inherent Vice.