BOOFHEAD BILLIONAIRE Clive Palmer has been at it again today, and this time it will cost him; his attack on Tony Abbott’s Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, represents the point at which settling scores against former political allies — and engaging in eccentric, populist stunts to garner attention — overstepped the mark into spiteful personal attack based on the most private of personal issues. Those who have given Palmer easy passage should be ashamed.
The problem with Clive Palmer to date — and I say this based purely on his words and actions since he began his God-forsaken foray into active politics, having spurned the conservative tribes that harboured him for decades — is that he stands for absolutely nothing: nothing, that is, except the advancement of his own barrow, and on exacting vengeance on Coalition figures by whom he believes he has been grievously wronged.
It’s a problem that those opposed either to Prime Minister Tony Abbott and/or his government have been content to foster, and encourage, and indulge; after all, as I said in this column twice last week — and do so again now
“…whether you agree with Palmer or not, there is little question he’s been given a very easy ride to date by those who should be holding him to account: those sections of the media opposed to the Liberal Party and/or Abbott…see Palmer as an additional attack dog against the reviled federal government, and are content to leave him off the leash. The ALP, sensing Palmer will do a fair portion of the heavy lifting Labor itself should be doing…are happy to let him go for the same reason. And mindful of the numbers in the Senate, the Coalition to date has proven reluctant to handle Palmer with anything other than kid gloves.”
Now — whilst Palmer clearly stands for nothing meaningful to most people — those who have failed to hold him to account need to take the would-be Prime Minister to task, for failure to do so will show them to be no more than opportunistic nihilists themselves, and heavily culpable in Palmer’s ascendancy to boot.
I think most people in Australia know by now of the contemptible slur Palmer fired at Credlin today, suggesting that the sole reason Abbott wants to introduce a paid parental leave scheme is “just so (Credlin) can receive a massive benefit when she gets pregnant.”
He claimed the only reason the policy was set to be introduced was the excessive influence he said Credlin had over Abbott, which was being used to ensure she would benefit personally when she had a child, and this flies in the face of the fact Abbott has been advocating such a scheme for many years: most notably in his book, Battlelines, which was published in 2009.
In what can only be construed as a cunningly calculated low blow, he also described Credlin as the “top dog” before immediately making the observation that “I shouldn’t say that,” amending his description of her to “top person” and going on to make a turgid attempt to portray Abbott’s advocacy of the policy as “proof” of his misogyny — if, as he asserted, such proof was even required.
Palmer has since refused to apologise, and claimed to have had no knowledge of the struggle Credlin has endured in her attempts to fall pregnant, to which I can only say that if he knows so little of whatever it is he chooses to prattle on about, Palmer might be better served by instead keeping his mouth shut.
But more on that later.
There are several issues here, and I’ll go through them as briefly as I can.
First, and most importantly, today’s outburst by Palmer is clear evidence that he will literally say anything to damage his political foes; we’ve discussed his set against the Coalition many times now, and (actual) Prime Minister Tony Abbott has long been one of his favourite targets.
Everyone who has been content to date to simply allow Palmer to rant on as he chooses, making no attempt to hold him accountable or to challenge him, ought to consider that: allowing him to destroy the rules everyone else (mostly) observes to the letter is to create a monster, and once that particular genie is out of the bottle it will be impossible to shove it back in. His tacky jibe at Credlin today is probably a mere taste of what will follow if he isn’t shut down now.
Dragging a staffer into his grubby diatribe to get at Abbott is a low act; I actually believe the staff who serve politicians of all partisan stripes should be allowed to go about their work unhindered and unmolested by point scorers and spivs looking to make a quick kill against a quarry who can’t respond. Credlin is a model staffer in this regard: nobody sees her parading herself through the media seeking to build her profile. Yes, it makes those in the media chase her the harder as a result, and consequently there are photographs of her everywhere you look for her. But to her credit, she doesn’t encourage the attention for a moment.
In other words, whatever people might think of her on other criteria, in this regard her conduct is impeccable. To target Credlin in the way he has makes Palmer look like a grub by comparison.
Second, does Credlin have “too much influence?” Palmer clearly thinks so, or he wouldn’t have said so; most people in the political space will have their own view on the question, and whilst I have previously defended her performance in opposition, I don’t pretend to be able to definitively answer that.
What I do know is that Credlin is an employee; her boss is Tony Abbott; and whether she is adept at her job or not is the central tenet of performance criteria that Abbott alone is the arbiter of. Whether he thinks her influence is excessive, and whether it is or not, is quite frankly none of Palmer’s business. It certainly has nothing to do with whether Credlin would like to have a child.
Third, “misogyny” has been a political football in Australia for some time now; with it, women’s issues have bounced into the arena of debate in ways that at times are not constructive and which have been abused — primarily by those on the Left — as a tool with which to batter Abbott for political gain.
Even so, the spectre of a wealthy white (ostensibly conservative) male exploiting the reproductive issues of a successful woman to advance his own political objectives is not only a disgusting outrage against decency and principle, but should be a clarion call to those women on the Left who have remained mute while Palmer has indulged his inconsistent, incoherent, self-obsessed and apparently revenge-orientated political agenda.
To date, it remains to be seen whether they make good on their “principles” or opt to make hypocrites of themselves, choosing instead to stay silent while Palmer continues his belligerent assault against the Liberal edifice they so detest. Time will tell.
Fourth, and thanks to an “impromptu” dinner featuring Malcolm Turnbull, Treasury secretary Martin Parkinson and a senior Liberal official, Palmer’s antics in the past week have been widely construed as a conspiratorial attempt to tear down Abbott and replace him with Turnbull.
As the story goes, Palmer could agree to the passage of the budget (and other legislation) in exchange for the hated Abbott being deposed by Turnbull — who Palmer described yesterday as “a great leader of the Liberal Party” despite the embattled tenure of the former leader being marred by poor judgement, abysmal polling, and a revolt among the Liberal rank and file.
I would simply point out that in view of Palmer’s increasingly erratic and bellicose behaviour, if Turnbull has designs on ever returning to the Liberal leadership — an event, for the record, this column would resolutely oppose under any and all circumstances — then entertaining allies of Palmer’s ilk raises questions around his judgement, which was found sorely wanting over the Godwin Grech affair that helped destroy his tenure as Liberal leader in the first place.
And finally, I said I would return to the issues Credlin has faced in trying to have a child.
There is a line that should never be crossed in politics: beyond it, inside the personal lives and relationships of those who play the political game, lie endless experiences and stories that rarely become public, if ever.
Sometimes, those experiences are too delicate to share and, even when they do become known, they can be a source of the kind of deep pain that no words can inflict.
It is well known that Credlin and her husband — federal Liberal Party director Brian Loughnane — have tried, unsuccessfully, to have a baby for many years; we know this because it was made public in the aftermath of the “misogyny” crusade embarked upon by ex-PM Julia Gillard that Abbott allowed Credlin to store IVF drugs in his personal rooms in Parliament, gave her time off for treatment, and so forth.
Palmer claimed to have known nothing of this, which beggars belief: anyone paying attention to what transpires in Canberra should have known about it. Yet even if he is given the benefit of the doubt — and it is accepted that he really didn’t know — then he should interpret this episode as a warning to keep quiet rather than blathering on about things he knows nothing about.
The inability to have a child — or the loss of a child through miscarriage or death after birth — are some of the most heartbreaking things any person can have to deal with, and I believe this is especially true of a woman as a mother.
My wife and I thought ourselves incredibly lucky (on account of what we still call the “tick tock” factor) to be able to have a second child when we did; when our son was born early last year my wife was already 42, and given Credlin is a similar age to my wife, the “tick tock” factor is obviously an issue she and Loughnane face.
Yet the pregnancy that led to a second child followed a miscarriage six months earlier: an incredibly exhausting, emotional thing to have to face.
All around us, we’ve seen close friends experience miscarriages and the inability to conceive at all; one close friend of mine and his wife endured seven of them, some in the aftermath of IVF treatment. The emotional effects of these things can be incalculable. It can destroy relationships and it can destroy people. Most are strong enough to get by in the end, but the real impact these events have on people should not be underestimated.
And we were lucky: we have two lovely children. Credlin and her husband don’t even have one. On this matter they have my very best wishes — however things eventuate for them.
Most readers will have first-hand experience — among family, friends, and colleagues — of these issues, and will know how desperately sad they can be. If, that is, they have not experienced them personally.
Whatever people might think of Credlin, nobody should revel in her difficulties in conceiving, and nobody should dismiss just how tough what she has endured in attempting to do so will have been on her — even if those effects are invisible to the outside world she fronts up to conquer day in, day out, in the perfectly proper discharge of her duties.
Never fear, people; I haven’t gone soft. My anger about what Palmer has had to say today is real. But for once, I think the gentler approach of talking about the incidental subject is more useful to make the overall point.
Politics is about people. Real, breathing human beings with emotions and feelings and fears. Attacking those vulnerabilities at the deepest possible level — even in ignorance — betrays a shocking and cavalier contempt for real people at the most basic level.
If we don’t have meaning in our lives, there is little point in having politics to order them, and — Left or Right — I don’t think anyone should be in politics if they couldn’t give a rat’s arse about anyone, literally, except themselves.
What Clive Palmer did today has destroyed utterly any credibility he might have claimed to have had.
It is now time for those who have laughed at him from behind their hands, and silently egged him on while he has done their dirty work for them, to take aim at Palmer and his “Palmer United Party” — better described as the Palmer Adoration Society — and run the bastard, and his odious political enterprise, out of the arena altogether.