Taylor has been branded a potential future prime minister; certainly a future Liberal leader. One person who has applied that label, former Liberal Party treasurer Michael Yabsley, says Taylor is “absolutely” facing his biggest test.
“Obviously there are a few things that have happened that you would have preferred didn’t happen,” says Yabsley, who was a friend of Taylor’s father. “He’s had a couple of bits of bad luck, specifically with the [Clover Moore] document. I don’t think he can be fairly called to account for what happened.”
Some would argue Taylor has, in fact, been blessed by good fortune from the very start. He went to the elite King’s School in Parramatta, then to the University of Sydney and on to Oxford with his Rhodes. McKinsey snapped him up as a management consultant, and he later became a partner.
Taylor’s close friends are mostly on the conservative side of the Liberal Party. When he first put up his hand for the Goulburn-based seat of Hume – the late Alby Schultz’s old seat – one of his major backers was John Howard. The former prime minister reportedly brokered a deal with the Nationals not to run a candidate against Taylor, as was their right when Schultz retired. Taylor stormed into office in 2013 under Abbott’s leadership.
Early in his political career, he was touted as leadership material and almost universally praised as blisteringly intelligent. Malcolm Turnbull twice promoted Taylor; first to his assistant minister for cities, a pet cause, and then to Minister for Law Enforcement at the end of 2017.
Eight months later Taylor returned the favour by voting for Peter Dutton to replace Turnbull as prime minister. Scott Morrison rewarded him further, appointing him to his first cabinet post.
Taylor had been highly ambitious from the outset. “The distinctive thing about me is that I hate – I mean really hate – fart-arsing around,” he told The Australian Financial Review in 2014. “I insist on getting things done. And yet that is what government specialises in – it specialises in fart-arsing. In stopping anything from happening, or insisting that the longest route is taken. I do delivery. That is what makes me different.”
But what, exactly, is Taylor delivering? That’s the question his internal critics ask. Predictably, they are not willing to put their names to their remarks. But they generally raise the same queries. How many runs does he have on the board? What has he actually led? How does he go under pressure?
Not very well, according to some Liberal MPs. “The way he presents himself and presents the argument makes you think ‘oh, you’re hiding something’,” says one colleague, who argues the controversies surrounding Taylor are “not that serious”.
“He has massively mishandled them so they look like they’re very serious,” the MP says. “He just doesn’t seem to have the political management skills.”
Some of Taylor’s friends are prepared to admit the sheen has come off their man a little – but not terminally. Craig Kelly, who holds the southern Sydney seat of Hughes, says all MPs go through difficulties at some stage. “It’s obviously unfortunate but it’s one of those things that happen in politics,” he says. “It sounds like a genuine mix-up in the office. I know Angus and there’s no way in the world he would go out and doctor a document … he’s one of the smartest guys I know.”
Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar, who entered Parliament in the same cohort as Taylor and is close to him politically, has a different take. The water buyback and Clover Moore controversies were both driven by reporting from The Guardian, despised by many Liberals for its progressive bent. Sukkar believes the media outlet’s focus on Taylor actually improves his standing in the party.
“Angus Taylor is delivering on the government’s commitments to lower electricity prices,” says Sukkar. “The more radical activists on Twitter and at The Guardian attack him for doing so, the stronger our resolve becomes.”
Howard is also standing by his man. He praised Taylor as “an excellent minister” handling a difficult portfolio. “He dealt with the Clover Moore issue when he realised a mistake had been made. I think he has a very promising future as a member of the government.”
Taylor offered an “unreserved” apology to Moore on Thursday, conceding the correspondence he sent to Moore’s office in September contained incorrect figures which suggested her councillors spent $15.9 million on interstate and overseas travel in 2017-18, when in fact it was just $6000.
Apology notwithstanding, no thorough explanation has been offered as to how these false figures were produced in the first place. Taylor says the document was downloaded from the council’s website. The City of Sydney says that’s impossible, as proven by the metadata. Labor has asked the NSW Police to investigate.
There is no suggestion Taylor himself was involved in doctoring the document, and it still seems unlikely anyone in his office would have done so given the incredibly high stakes and the ease with which the forgery would surely be discovered.
Labor would love to make Taylor the first ministerial victim of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s first full term. In June, when Parliament returned following the election, the opposition dedicated question time to pursuing Taylor over Australia’s rising carbon emissions, nuclear power and the water buybacks scandal. But none of these landed a knockout blow.
Taylor declined an interview for this story. His friend Yabsley maintains he has the “charisma” and “daunting intellect” necessary to go all the way. But “it’s all about delivering on policy”.
“The significant thing about the portfolio that he’s got is that it is front and centre in terms of the national debate,” Yabsley says. “There is a fair bit of heat associated with it. But that’s what comes from having a portfolio that is as significant as the energy portfolio.”
Taylor’s critics look at it somewhat differently. “He’s got a very serious portfolio and he’s asking the party to take massive leaps of faith on policies that involve market interventions that very few people agree with,” one Liberal MP says, adding that it’s an even bigger ask because of Taylor’s “trail of mistakes and unforced errors”.
Michael Koziol is a political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.