10 November 2011

The Peta Principle

Over the past week the structural shortcomings of the Coalition have been highlighted as starkly as they were once skated over. The Coalition has time to deal with those shortcomings, but it does not have the perspective or the will to do so. It will not get these qualities until after they lose the next election.

(Note for those who are new to this site: I'm not interested in polls going up or down, I'm interested in who has the capacity and the wit to use power effectively. I think that the Coalition lack the capacity and the wit to govern. I think Labor have both, but are only starting to realise that and are only just starting to use them. Commenters who want to go on about how Gillard is "embattled" or Abbott is "riding high in the polls" can post on one of the MSM sites, they needn't bother posting here.)

The profile of Peta Credlin in The Weekend Australian shows the basic problem with a policy-averse Opposition. It can only go so far, but not into government, in the sort of environment that makes her such a key operator. Already the limitations of that model are starting to show and rob the Coalition of momentum: the fact that the Coalition had no story regarding Qantas (see previous post) and had nothing to say about the carbon price other than to rack off to London.
Credlin describes herself to colleagues as "the Queen of No" and her sole mission, for now, is to get Abbott into the Lodge ... She's a control freak.
When you focus on day-to-day images, as Credlin does, you might get to drive past The Lodge but you'll never get anyone elected to live in the joint. For a start you need a clue about what it is you should and shouldn't say no to, and there is no proof Credlin has such judgment. The vetting of Abbott's diary and other petty actions described by Legge tell you all you need to know about Credlin - namely that she's not ready for Prime tiMe and that she can't take Abbott there either.

All PR dollies who claim they have all the information anyone could want are bullshitters. At best they are like those people Oscar Wilde described as knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. At worst they are just bullies floundering out of their depth: nobody can or does know everything about economic policy and health policy and defence policy and all the other policies that go to make up modern government, and the idea that someone like Credlin sits in judgment on it all saying no, no, no is just too silly. She knows nothing about the country or the Liberal Party or what limits there should be on government; she'd just like a low-profile but high-impact job at the centre of it, is all. People like Kate Legge might take that on face value but I bloody won't.
"No one person should have that much influence," despairs an Abbott supporter who believes the leader needs exposure to alternative sources of advice. "She's on the road with him all the time, making herself indispensable. She does everything for him; whether he needs a cup of tea or an important policy paper, she's there. He shrieks, 'Peta, Peta, Peta'. It's too close."
Credlin is Echo to her employer's Narcissus, with her focus on the "media cycle" and her lack of understanding, let alone respect, for the longer game of the country. She should realise that Abbott is a sharply limited character and that he needs people around him that complement him, rather than just those who compliment him. This is why Abbott has no switch to flick in order to become Prime Minister; like Howard in the '80s he'd rather conviviality than challenge in his office, which leaves him free to waddle about with such utter certainty. Had he been challenged a bit and been aware of the safety net prepared for him by others, he'd be a more complete man and a better candidate for Prime Minister, and aware that the job was bigger than just him. John Howard came to realise this by the '90s, with people like Grahame Morris and Sinodinos complementing him and giving the appearance of breadth and humility that a Jesuit education clearly can't do by itself.

The fact that the Coalition went to the last election with less of an economic policy than would be necessary for a small business to get a small loan is Credlin's fault. The fact that Abbott waved through a supposedly toxic Gillard tax on 28 June that he had vowed to oppose is her fault, because she was so focused on the stunts and the correspondence or whatever that actual policy affecting thousands of Australians simply slipped by. These are far bigger blunders than the one Legge describes when she let Turnbull down. Yet, if someone like Morris or Sinodinos (but without the reputations those guys have since established) presented themselves to Abbott offering their services, you can be sure that Credlin would look the gift horse in the mouth and declare it wanting.
Poll numbers appear to support Credlin's modus operandi.
The way Credlin and Abbott work is to create a constant sense of crisis in the government, which means that any Liberals who think about alternative ways of governing the nation are splitters and not people with the wider interests of party and nation in mind. Alternative approaches are not considered because they have no capacity to do so - the Credlins of this world would look feeble arguing for one position over another, so simply insisting that the position has already been decided and forcing all Liberals to echo it might look like strength, but it doesn't last when journos and the ALP stop playing along and asking questions about what an Abbott government would do. Polls can't last in the face of structural weakness.

How would Peta Credlin know what an Abbott government would do? She gets given a brief and told to push it through. Now that she's in a top job she can't not know what an Abbott government would do but the fact is she doesn't care about much beyond the "media cycle". People who care about policy are suckers to be manipulated. Do whatever it takes, say whatever it takes, screech at people who disagree and bag them to the point where their opinions don't get a hearing. That sort of thing only works for a while, and someone with Legge's experience should know that.
Talented individuals often alienate peers.
So do talentless bullies, particularly if you can't tell the difference and share their perspective that the context (in this case, the policy direction of the putative next government) is all about them. Just because you can wheedle something through a Coalition-controlled Senate doesn't mean you are in any position to assess the workings of government policy beyond the outer rim of State Circle.
"She shouldn't tell people what to do and what not to do," complains one Liberal backbencher who has tested Abbott's patience. "It's perfectly understandable that Tony Abbott wants to stay on message. But MPs are MPs. As long as you're not a member of the executive you're entitled to talk about issues." ...

... that's where the negativity comes from, especially when you have junior shadows and MPs thinking, 'Who are you to tell me what to do? You're only a staffer'."
Legge is so starstruck with her subject that she's missed a very important principle of the way we are governed: here 'negativity' (i.e. Princess Peta not getting everything her own way) and feminism are beside the point. The fact is that a backbencher has been elected by their party and thousands of Australians outside it to represent them in the Parliament. Staffers should be very careful in abrogating the representative rights and obligations those people have, and (we are talking conservatives here) the Burkean notion that a representative owes electors free exercise of judgment (mind you, any Liberal MP or staffer who has to do a Google search as to what the hell a Burkean notion is should be sacked). Legge just skates by that, and its implication for what sort of government we might have if this person and her employer end up running it. Blithely ignoring an issue of such importance is what turns a dispassionate journalistic profile into a puff piece.
How does Credlin measure up? Reviews of her policy skills are mixed ...
They're non-existent. She is like a dog with a bone once a bill is introduced, she doesn't get to choose which bone or even the beast it's cut from, or why the hell we're butchering animals and chucking their bones around at all. That sort of perspective is essential from senior officials in a good government, and that's the standard against which you judge people like Credlin (not whether you can get idlers like Greg Hunt or Brendan Nelson to make a phone call). Look at the shambles of Coalition policy, look at Credlin's power and control-freakery, and do some journalism.
"Who is going to shirtfront Loughnane with complaints about his wife and vice versa?" worries one Liberal upset by losing the safety valve for letting off steam ... Younger conservatives defend the status quo: "In a perfect world you wouldn't want a couple in these two positions. However, they are both talented individuals. It would be to the party's detriment if one was forced out." Some argue it's a plus, with twice the networking, leak-proof communication between the leader's office and the party wing and double the investment in success.
That's fine so long as both are doing an absolutely excellent job in all respects. Those "younger conservatives" quoted really have no idea, do they: no sense of history, no sense of how a long-festering sore covered up can cripple rather than heal, and both Credlin and Loughnane are in the cover-up business. "Letting off steam"? Loughnane's only win was against Mark Latham, come on Kate.
Earlier this year former Howard cabinet minister Peter Reith failed in his bid to topple party president Alan Stockdale, who was treasurer in the Kennett government. Reith's backers traced the fingerprints of Loughnane and Credlin locking in the "old guard". Abbott had encouraged Reith to run and then made a surprise last-minute switch. "Peta got to him," one insider insists of a result that suited Loughnane's preference for the status quo.

The couple has everything riding on Abbott's success. "Peta and Brian have got stars in their eyes," snipes one insider. "They've got 'soon to be PM' fever. They think they are going to be in the Lodge in the next 10 minutes." Discontent is kept in check while Abbott prospers.
Well they would, wouldn't they. They need to think that - and inculcate that belief across the Coalition - otherwise the prospect of hard slog and weighing up competing policies for the good of the nation in challenging times is just too damn hard. A reflective Liberal Party is an environment in which neither CredLoughnane would thrive let alone succeed. No-one minds them building castles in the air but when they shriek at people as though they were serfs whose role in life was to maintain that castle - that's where the problems start. The best backroom operators are realists first, and realism means cutting people some slack incase they may one day be right about something important. That's the real reason why the Liberal Party used to think the 'broad church' was important, and the secret of its success until the 1980s. Hawke Labor had the same success until the Faustian bargain with Richo became too expensive. Credlin can't understand that: diversity is death for robots like her.

Leaving Andrew Robb out of a phone conference about superannuation is not strong, it's pathetic. If you're going to do that, do the whole Lucrezia Borgia thing and sack him for disloyalty: Robb won't come back from a sacking. A real powerbroker would have lined up Robb's replacement in Goldstein by now - or if not run for it herself, pushed one of the hapless Senators into it. That's what a real powerbroker would do, Kate Legge, not act like some nasty schoolgirl because Robb makes Bri-Bri feel insecure.
She once sought the counsel of senior Liberals on a Senate spot. They think she'd be stunning.
Well, yes - but who wouldn't? Look at the Victorian Liberal Senate team. You'd never guess that Victoria was once the jewel in the Liberal crown: someone's snippy ex, a pensioner from Ballarat who is more arse than man, and two staffers way, way out of their depth. Almost every local council boasts a more impressive line-up than the Victorian Liberal Senate team. Credlin is entitled to think that she'd be able to mix it with those clowns. Neither Legge nor Credlin nor anyone else is entitled to think that the Victorian people would be better off for such a deal, or that our heroine would take well to the medicine she dishes out: do what you're told and shut up.
For every hater there's an advocate who loves her to bits.
I'd be very surprised if it was a 1:1 ratio, but I would absolutely bet it blows out something shocking once polling day draws nigh and people still would happily get rid of Gillard only if it didn't mean Abbott getting in. The prevalence of such a perception, after two years and a lost election, is an indictment on Credlin's so-called political skills.

It is so lame doing a profile on someone who is so widely known as a bastard/bitch to trot out some sillyhead who insists they're really all rainbows and ponies. The trick is to find some evidence of that in the way policy is actually made. If the Liberals come out against the disability and injury insurance schemes, this will count for absolutely nothing at all.
"It was hard to get good people, many were exhausted, people went AWOL, they buried themselves in grief," Nelson recalls of his scramble to staff the leader's office. "I rang her to see if there was any chance she'd come back to politics. I couldn't believe my luck when she said, 'Yes, I'd love to.'"
Getting on with your life after the work is done is going "AWOL"? What an arrogant little turd.

The whole notion that Credlin is such top quality is undone by that quote - talk about damning with faint praise.

Tony Abbott is in London seeing what a post-Murdoch Anglosphere government looks like. It has more liberals in it than he'd be comfortable with. He may come away from the experience with a new perspective, realising that Credlin isn't the wind beneath his wings; if he does, he'd have to be a stronger man than he is to let her go and reshape his office and party with a breadth and reach that it doesn't currently have. He'll come back to Credlin and Credlin will lead him to stumble after stumble, week after week, snarling and spitting as her dream evaporates. Someone like Abbott might yearn for a great showdown but he'll get pecked to death by gaffes and slip-ups, and the policy equivalents of bringing a butter-knife to a knife-fight with a government growing in confidence.
At a nearby table Prime Minister Julia Gillard looks surprisingly calm given she's got the most to fear from the giraffe in the room.
Given what Legge tried to say but couldn't, Gillard is right to be calm. She has nothing to fear from Credlin, and if this government's record is any guide then after it is re-elected in 2013 they will probably offer Credlin a job, and she will probably take it; the whole Howard fabric, tattered and unsustainable, will be irreparable by those who could not tailor and trim where needed. A blood pledge here, a new tax there, low unemployment or carers' relief or - who knows, something for Aborigines - and the very things Credlin should have prevented from happening will happen because she's there and won't go away, because and not despite the vision and the competence that are as sharply limited as those of her current boss.

Peta Credlin will always come up smelling of roses, and maybe that's why Legge admires her. Only when that ceases to be the point of the exercise for the Liberal Party will it realise how much it has truly been had. Until then, accept that the situation that makes Peta Credlin possible is that party's problem. Those invertebrates who wanted to give Kate Legge the real dope on Credlin but couldn't will not be part of the next Liberal government either.

Soon after 2013 Bonnie Credlin and Clyde Loughnane will be gone, but they'll be back when the next Liberal government takes office, and the press will make a big fuss about their much-vaunted political skills for old time's sake (like they are doing with Richo now). That's a long way off though, and we'll see what happens.


  1. Excellent piece Andrew. That Legge article was amazing for its lack of insight.

  2. So it is Credlin who is pulling Abbott's strings. Jesus, he's even more hollow than I thought.


  3. I think it's now pretty clear the Liberals will lose the next election, and that Gillard will be Prime Minister for several more years (I can no longer get anyone to bet against it, oh well there is a limit to the amount of free booze a light drinker needs).

    I thought the Queen of No piece was an attempt to line someone else other than Abbott up for the fall.

    1. Oh please don't wish that on us. More sensless spending, more lies, more of Thompson and Slipper, more sexist attacks. No, Please!

  4. Thanks Andrew for a top article - a must read - well done.

  5. Thank you for the insight. So what I see is that the Liberals are about 18months and counting behind the Labor party. In the Rudd days and the 24 hour news cycle, the back benchers would complain about the young PR team being in charge, there was no access to the PM and all messages had to be cleared from his office.
    Exactly what is happening now for the Liberals the exception, Credlin is older .

  6. Haven't read the article but for your excerpts, but I find it breathtaking that someone would write an article about negativity "The Queen of No" being a good thing when it seems that the light is slowly beginning to reveal that all Tony is capable of is saying no. I couldn't a link but one of the papers in the last day or so had a headline describing him as "Mr No" or similar.

    The coalition behaviour in the Senate at the passing of the carbon price bill was appalling (and I rely on twitter and blogs for that story - as the MSM didn't seem to make any comment about senators throwing tantrums and using hamfisted delay tactics). I shouldn't have expected anything better from the coalition but the behaviour shown was far from the example of graceful losers (now that it seems we are characterising important policy debate in those terms).

    I can't help but wonder why the party is so doggedly persisting with Abbott. Yes he is effective in getting oxygen and attention, but this will only have the effect of making sure everyone knows that he is not competent to form government.

    1. Well surely it must be obvious, that the party know him better than us and know what a decent bloke he is. He will run our country with us in mind, not like Gillard who only has her own agenda in her mind. Tony might make mistakes as we all do but at least we won't see lies,reckless spending, support of Slipper and Thompson and endless sexist agenda to slander a decent man. Shame.

  7. My take on the piece was that, when you analysed it, Credlin was a political failure.

    You only have to look at where her past bosses are now.

    If Abbott loses (again) her CV won't be worth the paper it's printed on.

  8. The link you provided to Legge's article took me straight to The Australian's Paywall. Unwilling to pay I scratched around and found this http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/features/whos-the-boss/story-e6frg8h6-1226182439093
    Hope that helps. Now I've read it it sounds like sycophantic bullshit to me. I think this is a terrific piece of writing and I'm inspired to find out a bit more about Credlin and Loughnane. I don't really know anything about them at all.

    1. What absolute crap. Why is everybody jealous of Peta Credlin. funny how nothing has been mentioned ever since labout made sexist and unsavoury remarks about her and Mr Abbott. And they are decent enough to ignore it. Imagine if that was the other way aroung. Oh my God!!!

  9. 'When you focus on day-to-day images, as Credlin does, you might get to drive past The Lodge but you'll never get anyone elected to live in the joint.'
    Like over the last 24 hours, when we have been subjected to images of Mr Abbott rolling up to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's digs, trying to look all Prime Ministerial, in his sharpest suit. However, it's all faintly ridiculous when you step back from it, and take off the rose-tinted glasses the image manufacturers are trying to sell you with Tony. He's not the Prime Minister of Australia, so all this pretence is faintly ridiculous to see. It's not as if he's even gone to Conservative HQ in Britain with some policies that he could parade before the confreres of the IDU. He's got nothing, except a sharp suit, and a carpetbag full of glib one-liners and confected outrage.

  10. Totally agree - Abbott won't win even if Gillard has lost momentum. If they were smart enough to put Turnbull back it would be all over for Labor. Thankfully the current leading Libs are all just too stupid.

  11. They, B&C, are the epitome of the modern Liberal Party, and embody what should be the motto whilst Tony Abbott, Peta Credlin, and Brian Loughnane 'lead' them:
    'Style Over Substance'.

  12. Grog, Cuppa, Notus, Jen: thank you.

    Anon: it's the whole "Back To 2006" mentality that makes Abbott and Credlin possible. In part they are doing it to avoid the soul-searching that came about during the 1980s and '90s. That sort of rethink is inevitable though, and will be too hard and too messy for many Libs today.

    Sue: The difference is that Rudd was in total command of his office, whereas Abbott is part of a wider system of which the NSW Right is part. Rudd had a lot more respect for policy than Abbott does.

    Dan: You're right, her failure is his failure. He represents the idea that the Howard Govt wasn't so bad and that it can be resurrected, a powerful idea that will not die of its own accord but can only be slaughtered at the polling booth. I saw this mentality in the late '90s in NSW and they've fallen for it again.

    Mehitabel: you're right, but she'll be able to bluff her way into lobbying work. People like Peta Credlin always fall on their feet.

    Doug: sorry about that, I got around it via Google News.

    HS: I bet the Poms are laughing at Abbott as hard as anyone.

  13. The soul searching in the Libs should consist of working out what they really should oppose if they ever become a government. Surely the mining tax was actually a promise? And will raise some good easy to collect revenue. Say it's locked in, or you'll review it and fine tune it, but give up on revoking it (especially after the astonishingly stupid promise on 12% Super). Save that for the Carbon Tax.

    I presume Turnbull now has a more coherent NBN policy. Let him run with that, and face the fact that you can't loot this magic pudding next time without looking as stupid as you did last time.

    Leave the Carbon Price as the only NO policy (and dump the stupid policy of Greg Hunt's - just say No because it's too expensive or it's not happening, but don't pretend you actually care either way).

  14. If you're still wondering why Legge admires Credlin, you need look no further than the much-discussed cult of the insider that has consumed the Canberra press gallery. I think you may have blogged on that topic yourself, Andrew. Credlin is the ultimate untalented underling, the Wormtongue whom Canberra lizards want to grow up to be.

    In the accompanying video, Legge says openly that she loves the "crazy adrenaline-filled world of political junkies" popularised by The West Wing, and she builds Credlin up like a character from the show. This fawning over apparatchiks by the press gallery puts the sick into sycophantic. It's some sort of -philiac, I haven't decided which prefix yet.

  15. The article talks about her Catholic and possibly DLP background. I think you've made the observation that Abbott is really a DLP rather than a Liberal politician. Of course the Liberals pride themselves on being a broad church, but I think it's pretty obvious that that's well and truly gone. Dissent of any kind seems to be pretty ruthlessly silenced these days by the likes of Credlin.

    Again, it's something you've written on but it's becoming clearer that there are some big ideological fractures in the Liberal party that haven't been apparent because of Abbott's success in the polls. Now that that seems to be reversing it will be interesting to see what emerges.

  16. Oliver: The fact that so few stand to pay the miing tax (and that its impact on investment is apparently non-existent), and that so many stand to benefit from it, makes it a no-brainer as far as reducing tax burdens across the board is concerned. Hunt should have resigned rather than associate himself with such a sorry excuse for a non-policy.

    m0nty: I've blogged about this for years. I love The West Wing too but it has a lot to answer for.

  17. PB, I think Credlin is a policy vacuum and that the DLP default is a substitute for real economic thought and consideration of what Australia needs in the 21st century. Abbott and Credlin are all about not rethinking things from the ground up, which seems like strength but is really their weakness.

  18. Only just caught up with this... a ripper! Thank you.



  19. Andrew,

    Did you see Tony Abbott bragging to his British counterparts about how low Australia's debt is and how wonderfully the economy is doing compared to Eurozone states?

    Is he for real? Doesn't he realise its completely at odds with what he has saying for the last year? Doesn't he understand that just because he does it overseas, it doesn't mean we won't see it in Australia?

    If the Labor party were smart, they would just run that video at the next election continuously (if Tony Abbott is still there).

    Running off before the Carbon Tax was passed in the senate despite thumping his chest over it for nearly a year was amazing. The fact that he announced his trip with one hours notice was even more hilarious. It must have meant his own party colleges in the Senate would have only realised at the last minute that they wouldn't his in person support.

    If this the type of guidance that Peta Credlin is giving him, he is well and truly stuffed.

  20. Andrew
    Did you see today that Abbott, after introducing his front bench team, then steered Obama over to the side and introduced Credlin.

  21. Thanks mickhs.

    Bobalot, it isn't so much that Credlin advises him to do this but she mirrors that in him. He's weak and she feeds that rather than balancing it out.

    Sue, I'm not surprised. She's more significant in the future of Australia-US relations than he is.

  22. Hi Andrew, you wonderfully un-puffed the puff. Love your 2nd paragraph, RE polls too. Legge did manage to get past the propaganda parrots at the Oz, the fact that the `No-Queen` is the same hand, now manipulating a 3rd sockpuppet. I am left wondering if (`No-Queen` and /or hubby) are lobbying the Libs on behalf of others, eg Nuclear Power.

    The choice of opposition, verses alternative lesson, has not been learnt by `The-Situation` and the `No-Queen` yet. You and I can see this. So did Wilkie, Windsor and Oakshott in 2010. It is interesting `The-Situation` wants to keep riding the same dead donkey.

    Hello m0nty

    Yes, things that clutter the Canberra gallery will see `No-Queen` as an idol under the .. insider, savvy, cult crap. The embedded media can always find ways to self-corrode and wallow in the shallow end of the information pool. Legge does seem to be part of this.

    Hello Doug Evans

    I too had to bounce over the paywall with a google news cookie.
    (Andrews, Dougs and my URL are the same)
    It took me a while to work out. :-)

  23. Jewel Rainbow21/12/11 9:48 am

    Today (21 December) we have witnessed Abbott refuse to have discussions with the Govt on the urgent need to compromise to come up with an agreed offshore processing option to discourage more unseaworthy boats and loss of life in the wake of the recent tragedy. Abbott's reason for his refusal of these much-needed discussions (for which the PM was willing to recall Parliament)? He needs to see A MEETING AGENDA first! Why would he need advance warning of the meeting's agenda? So Abbott can show it to his Brains Trust "boss", Peta Credlin, who can tell him what stance to take. This cynical political game-playing with Australia's border security proves Abbott is willing to break his duty of care to the public in order advance Credlin's agenda of petty political point-scoring at any price. She is the Queen Of No - Abbott is her pawn and must go.

  24. Today we jump to Feb 7, 2015 and much has happened since this article was written, but only thing different really is Tony is PM. The remarkable thing is he is now in the predicament of his party want to booting him, the whole country are sick of his guffs and lack of policy and lack of direction and Murdoch blames Peta! Is this a time warp?