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Journalists often complain that politicians aren’t accountable and won’t answer routine questions – and it seems constituents can find themselves similarly thwarted.
The president of a local community group active in Angus Taylor’s electorate has expressed disappointment that the emissions reduction minister has brushed off a series of questions related to his portfolio after saying publicly he was “always” happy to engage with constituents on policy.
During a recent local media interview, Taylor declined to engage with critiques from the “Vote Angus Out” campaign – a local political protest movement seeking to unseat the Liberal emissions reduction minister from his electorate of Hume.
Taylor branded that campaign defamatory and “grubby mudslinging”.
But he said he was “always happy to engage on policy – that’s my job – and outcomes for the region, and outcomes for my hometown and my electorate”.
Swiss-born journalist Urs Walterlin, the president of the Goulburn Group – a local community group that has been active on climate change and environmental sustainability issues since 2007 – took that as an invitation.
He says he took the reported comments as an opportunity to approach Taylor with crowd-sourced questions about policy.
Walterlin says he is not a political operative, and his activism stems from a passion for sustainability. “We are not politically bound – I’m doing this because I live here,” he told Guardian Australia.
Walterlin said he had met Taylor before, including once at his home. The minister, he said, was a neighbour. “Angus lives just down the road.”
The questions were sourced from the group’s Facebook page, and they referenced a series of climate change issues in the news.
Five were sent to Taylor, covering the government’s approach to a zero emissions target, plans to build a gas-fired power station “when not one energy company in the private market wants to do it” and the response to a federal court decision that the government had a duty of care to protect young people from climate change.
There was also one question about a significant political controversy Taylor initiated when he criticised the Sydney lord mayor’s travel using a document that had been altered: “Where did Mr Taylor get his figures from regarding his accusations against Clover Moore?”
In his cover letter to Taylor, Walterlin noted the Goulburn Group was “NOT a member of the “Vote Angus Out” movement” – but was intent on taking up the minister’s recent suggestion that he was “happy to engage on policy”.
Walterlin told Taylor that when he had called for questions, he had advised “interested members of the public that we would only accept real questions, not statements – and would delete any possible expressions of abuse”.
He told Taylor the five crowd sourced questions had “not been edited” and “we respectfully ask you to answer them as soon as possible”.
But two weeks later, Walterlin received a pro-forma response signed by Taylor.
That response began by addressing the Goulburn man as “Ms” Urs Walterlin.
The minister’s response did not engage directly or substantively with any of the questions.
“Thank you for your letter on behalf of The Goulburn Group,” Taylor’s response read.
“I stand by my strong track record of delivering for the people of Goulburn and Hume – delivering unprecedented investment, infrastructure and jobs in our wonderful local community.
“Practical local outcomes are what people in our region care about. That is my focus every day.”
Walterlin told Guardian Australia he had “great hopes” when Taylor was first elected in Hume because “he is such a smart guy, and young”.
But he said “many people in the town are surprised about his focus on conservative industries”.
“I think he hasn’t even read the questions,” Walterlin said. “We are very disappointed.”