Angus Taylor says Josh Frydenberg knew of family interest before grasslands meeting | Australia news
Josh Frydenberg, then the environment minister, knew his ministerial colleague Angus Taylor had a family interest in a farm being investigated for alleged illegal clearing of grasslands when Taylor met with environment department officials to discuss endangered grassland regulations, according to Taylor.
The 2017 meeting between Taylor – then the minister for cities – and environment department officials over critically endangered grasslands came while Taylor’s family’s company, Jam Land Pty Ltd, was being investigated for allegedly illegally poisoning grasslands on property on the Monaro plains of New South Wales.
Taylor confirmed to the ABC’s Insiders program that he disclosed to Frydenberg – then environment and energy minister – his family’s interest before meeting with the bureaucrats.
“My obligation is to disclose to the parliament and to the prime minister,” Taylor said.
“The minister, which was Josh Frydenberg at the time, was also aware, so there was no lack of disclosure and compliance on this.”
Taylor, now the energy minister, defended his intervention on the regulations – despite his family’s farm having a compliance action issued against it – saying he was representing the concerns of constituents in his regional electorate of Hume.
“I have stayed at arm’s length at all times from that compliance matter,” he said.
“I’ve argued for farmers in my electorate who deserve advocacy and representation on an issue affecting them … Farmers need representation, and I will do it every day of the week,” he said.
The 2017 meeting took place in Taylor’s Parliament House office, attended by Taylor, environment department officials, and staff from Frydenberg’s office. No notes were taken by the officials present, Senate committee questions have revealed.
Taylor did not disclose the interest to the officials at the meeting.
However, internal emails obtained by Guardian Australia show the department officials were acutely sensitive about meeting with Taylor while his family’s company was being investigated.
At the time of the meeting with Taylor, state and federal investigations were under way into whether Jam Land Pty Ltd illegally poisoned 30 hectares of land containing native temperate grasses – considered an endangered ecological community under federal environment laws – in the Monaro region.
Angus Taylor’s brother, Richard, is one of the directors of Jam Land and the minister himself holds an interest in the firm via his family investment company, Gufee.
After Taylor met with Frydenberg’s office, Frydenberg asked his department whether he had the power to weaken the grasslands’ protection – and if any change had to be published.
No changes were made to the grass species’ critically endangered listing, which had been upgraded from endangered.
Labor’s environment spokeswoman, Terri Butler, said Frydenberg, now treasurer, “had questions to answers on what he knew about Jam Land and when”.
“Josh Frydenberg must now come clean on when he knew about Taylor’s interests in the property.”
The 2018 statement of ministerial standards insists ministers must “make arrangements to avoid conflicts of interests arising from their investments” and “it is critical that ministers do not use public office for private purposes”.
In response on Sunday Frydenberg issued a statement: “As the member for Hume (Taylor) has said in the parliament: ‘my indirect interest in Jam Land, through my family company, has been widely reported in the media and was declared in accordance with the rules, through my family company’.”
Labor is concerned the minister didn’t properly disclose his interest in the company, pointing to department answers to Senate committee questions and a freedom of information request that show no records of the minister declaring his interest in Jam Land to the bureaucrats.