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

This year, the coveted Arsehat of the Year was contested by a plethora of worthy candidates. Prime Minister Scott Morrison didn’t even qualify for a nomination, while Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton had to be retired for the same reason as Tony Abbott — compared to most arsehats, they’re bazookas at a knife fight. And yet, in the midst of all that, Crikey readers gave us the clearest winner in the history of our awards.

What it is about Angus Taylor? Obviously, by any measure, he has had an unusually scandal-plagued year. But it’s more than that.

Firstly, there’s that background: a wealthy, powerful farming family, a string of impeccable private schools — The King’s School Parramatta, St Andrews College.

Then there’s a stint at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and the work for the giant, secretive consulting firm McKinsey & Company — most recently in the news for assisting the US government’s grotesque immigration policies. Those bland good looks, like a dad in a catalogue.

Once he gets into politics — having won preselection for a safe Coalition seat — he uses his maiden speech in parliament to talk about the “war on Christmas”.

He becomes minister for energy, and barricades himself in a room away from the media after his first speech. The ditching of early political ally Malcolm Turnbull for Peter Dutton. The fact that, despite a year in the spotlight thanks to scandal after scandal after scandal, one can’t recall a single thing he’s actually said, not a single memorable turn of phrase. The arrogance and evasion he’s shown in response to each scandal.

It all totals up to an impression of someone who went into politics not out of any coherent idea of what the world ought to be, much less a desire to serve, but as a natural career progression — of ending up in government because people who go to the right schools and meet the right people often do.

GrassgateWatergate. The forged documents deployed against a political opponent, which necessitated a police investigation. The man wrote “Fantastic. Great move. Well done Angus.” on his own Facebook post, and shared a faked Top Gear segment for God’s sake. His attack on Clover Moore leaves essentially no interpretations, save idiocy or malfeasance.

On the publicly available evidence, Taylor’s true talent is making friends with the right people, people who usher you from one room to another, people who will back you even as you embarrass them, people who call the cops on your behalf when it gets serious.

It is appropriate that this man is now our energy minister. Indeed his last act of the year was to be instrumental in a compromised nothing-of-a-deal on emissions at the UN.

Beyond a certain hollowness, Taylor embodies the icy-brow realisation about why the world is in the state it is and why the public is so implacably disillusioned with the political class: so many people in power aren’t just nefarious or callous or self involved, but simply mediocre people who find it very difficult to get fired.

Peter Fray

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