Australian Energy Minister Angus Taylor.
Australian Energy Minister Angus Taylor. (Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

Energy Minister Angus Taylor is under siege. That was last week’s headline, but it could just as easily be from last month, or any of the six months prior. From a magnificent series of social media missteps during the election campaign, to revelations of his potentially inappropriate dealings with the environment department over endangered grasslands, Taylor has had a year from hell.

Labor, desperately needing a win, smell blood and now they have the minister who they see as the weakest link on Morrison’s front bench in their crosshairs. The opposition homed in on Taylor during question time last week and, with key crossbenchers now supporting their parliamentary inquiry into the grasslands affair, the minister’s woes may continue for some time.

Who even is Angus Taylor?

Taylor ticked all the right Liberal boxes. He came from a powerful farming family with deep establishment ties — dad ran the NSW Farmers’ Federation and granddad built the Snowy Hydro Scheme. Before entering parliament, Taylor was a Rhodes Scholar and, like so many Rhodes Scholars, went on to work for global consulting firm McKinsey & Co. In 2012, he won preselection for the safe Coalition seat of Hume in rural NSW.

In his early years as a backbencher Taylor kept a relatively low profile, but became best known as an opponent of renewable energy. Taylor appeared at rallies held by anti-wind-farm group Stop These Things. 

From watergate to grassgate

In the last three months, Taylor has come under fire for two separate stories concerning the intersection of his business interests and parliamentary duties. In April, it was revealed that two years ago, the government had made a $79 million water buyback from a subsidiary of a Cayman Islands-based company of which Taylor was a director and co-founder. Taylor said he had resigned from any roles in the company at the time of the buyback, and threatened to sue journalists over sharing Twitter threads concerning his involvement with the company. 

But while “watergate” didn’t stick, much to the ire of the left-wing Twittersphere, Taylor looks to be in more trouble over the grasslands affair. According to reports in The Guardian, Taylor met with officials from the environment department and then-minister Josh Frydenberg’s office back in 2017 over the environmental protections for a native grassland species in the Monaro region of NSW. That environmental designation was central to the department’s investigation of an alleged illegal land-clearing operation undertaken by Jam Land Pty Ltd. One of the directors of that company is Taylor’s brother Richard. Taylor also has an interest in the company through his family’s investment company. 

The revelations caused outcry from the opposition benches, with Labor Senator Penny Wong labelling Taylor “corrupt”, an accusation she later withdrew. Labor has pushed hard for a parliamentary inquiry into Taylor’s conduct and, while they managed to get Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick’s support, Pauline Hanson’s confirmation that One Nation would not support what she termed a “witch hunt” indicates the probe is likely dead. 

The emissions and power prices that refuse to go down

When Taylor took over the energy portfolio after Scott Morrison’s coup last year, the Prime Minister quickly termed him the “minister for getting electricity prices down”. Unfortunately for Taylor, that hasn’t happened. 

Taylor has had little success in the other part of his ministerial brief: emissions reduction. In his first speech since taking on the role, he was forced to deny that he was a climate denier. But his record on climate has hardly been stellar.

In December last year, Taylor butted heads with the NSW government, using procedural rules to kill off a proposal from the state’s energy minister Don Harwin for a national energy and emissions policy. And while emissions have increased for the third straight year, Taylor failed to release the relevant report in time to meet a Senate deadline, even though the figures had been ready weeks earlier.

Well done Angus

With all the recent scrutiny from Labor, it’s easy to forget Taylor’s spectacularly gaffe-filled performance during the election campaign. First, Taylor savaged Bill Shorten’s electric car plan by sharing a now-discredited video from British TV show Top Gear. Awkwardly for Taylor, just months earlier, he had appeared to be a supporter of electric cars.

But election campaigns can bring out mistakes from even the best of us. Just weeks from the poll, Taylor was caught praising himself on Facebook, replying to his own post. The phrase “Fantastic. Great Move. Well Done Angus” took on a life of its own as a meme, with the story even getting picked up by the BBC.

Of course, the silver lining for the poor staffer who forgot to log out, is that the incident will now just be a footnote in Taylor’s year of gaffes.

Peter Fray

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