Bishop Must Prevail In Stoush With Credlin

THE PRIME MINISTER’S Chief of Staff is in the headlines again this week — for all the wrong reasons — this time for allegedly vetoing the attendance of Foreign minister Julie Bishop at a climate change conference in Peru; Credlin has an important role to play in the operational efficiency of the government, but her place should be kept in perspective. Ministers and MPs are answerable to voters, not some jumped-up adviser.

As is ever the case with critics of the Liberal Party and of the Abbott government particularly, it never fails to surprise how malleable their righteous bleatings can be.

Shortly after the Coalition win at last year’s election — as Peta Credlin’s influence over staff appointments was beginning to ruffle feathers — the chorus from (mostly) the Left was one of indignation: how dare one unelected official wield so much power over an elected government? Now, however, as dissent and defiance toward the Prime Minister’s office percolates at a rolling boil, the same anti-Coalition voices (with a vested interest in the continuity of her shortcomings) profess outrage that a single, individual adviser could be so victimised and pilloried for simply doing her job.

Yes, there’s an outrage afoot all right, and to listen to the voices of the government’s enemies, the growing anger over Peta Credlin’s influence and the degree of control she wields over the government is the real evil in the equation.

But discipline in government and the efficient operation of a well-oiled machine are one thing; a central control edifice that arguably runs counter to the electoral and political interests of the government is something else again, and the ugly fracas that appears to have spilt over into the national press this week between Bishop and Credlin is symptomatic of the latter.

I have written in this column, many times, that the job Credlin did in welding the Coalition into a cohesive unit to fight the 2013 election was outstanding, and that the discipline in Coalition ranks that helped deliver government was achieved in no small measure as a result of her presence and her skill as a political fighter.

But since that point there has been ample reason for those committed to seeing the Abbott government succeed in office to grow uneasy, and whether true or not — or whether she and her acolytes like it or not — all roads lead back to the Prime Minister’s Office on her watch, and so does responsibility for a growing list of the government’s shortcomings and failings.

The problem — succinctly stated — is that Credlin has been free to either manage the government’s activities on every conceivable front, or to veto everything in sight, and whether political error derives from Credlin personally or the cabal of insiders she is cosseted in the Prime Ministerial bunker with, the effective end reality is unchanged.

On the latter count, the veto has been wielded with almost reckless abandon; the point at which I stopped defending Credlin to anyone who asked came when I learned that her central vetting panel for appointing advisers extended beyond the realm of ministerial offices, and instead reached right down into the individual electorate offices of Coalition MPs, with even the lowliest secretarial shitkicker roles subject to central approval or rejection.

Despite the insistence by anyone who was asked that MPs were free to hire whoever they liked — which they should have been — it was an exercise in micromanagement that bordered on the pathological.

We know, of course, that the PMO has had a high level of control over what ministers are permitted to say in press conferences; readers will recall the embarrassment of Immigration minister Scott Morrison flubbing the lines he had been given to regurgitate on one occasion early this year, only to be visibly berated by Credlin on the sidelines once the media conference had concluded. It is a single example but it is telling. And it wasn’t a good look.

Strategies, parliamentary tactics, policy initiatives, and the schedules of ministers are all managed on a short rein from the PMO, which seems happy for elected representatives to wear any opprobrium arising from the discharge of instructions — irrespective of the merit of those instructions — yet immune from any of the fallout, simply continuing to issue orders and exercise control from a fortified bunker that seems beyond any measure of accountability.

Yet if one chooses to wield the control and authority of the PMO as it is being wielded, and if the veto of just about everything in sight is exercised ruthlessly, relentlessly and remorselessly, then the inevitable fallout and consequences must also be accepted as part of the remit, not shuffled down the line or blame transferred onto those actually elected to govern.

And the tendency to extreme micromanagement (which is never the best approach to the administration of anything involving large numbers of people) exhibited by the PMO appears to be reaping the results that micromanagement regimes in business almost invariably yield: the spiralling loss of control, compliance and cohesion that comes from the sheer resentment of people being treated like idiots — in this case, the government’s own MPs.

The latest alleged spat that has found its way into the pages of the press between Credlin and Foreign minister Julie Bishop has been met, predictably and commendably enough and from both sides, with standard rote denials and the insistence that these two forceful and highly capable women share a robustly functional professional relationship.

I have my doubts, but even accounting for media sensationalism and the penchant for the odd mischievous journalist or three to fly a kite, the consistency of this type of material spilling into the public domain simply wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t more than an atom of truth to it.

The episode over the veto of Bishop’s attendance at a conference in Peru — later overturned by Cabinet approval, which in turn was met with the PMO insisting Trade minister Andrew Robb be sent as a “chaperone,” which is a novel euphemism for keeping an eye on her if ever there was one — and the subsequent growing clamour from disgruntled MPs who find themselves shut off from the Prime Minister in every way except the receipt of orders from his office highlights how serious the problem (and the disconnect) between the Prime Minister’s Office and the actual government has grown.

In my view, the consequences are writ large: a government flailing in the polls, with a ministry providing succour to a number of no-hopers, no-shows and non-performers, acting on a political strategy apparently designed to return the Coalition to opposition, and as whatever dubious strategy the Coalition is following flounders.

If anyone inside the little unelected cabal running the government disagrees with that assessment, then they should get out more, frankly. It doesn’t take a lot of time talking to people disconnected with politics in a structural sense to realise that — rightly or wrongly — the Abbott government is not travelling well, and is unlikely to win an election any time soon unless a fundamental and profound shift occurs in the strategies it is currently welded to.

Nobody can have it both ways; Credlin might be a formidable operator and yes, she can point to significant political accomplishments that entitle her to a degree of the credit for getting Tony Abbott elected in the first place.

But what has transpired in the 15 months since is also a chronology she owns and must wear, for whether Credlin personally — or the overall structure that is the PMO, which in turn is tantamount to the same thing — has left this government, near the midway point of its first term in office, in a precarious political position.

There are things beyond any government’s control, and the obstruction of the Senate and the reprehensible conduct of Labor “leader” Bill Shorten in his approach to his role as alternative Prime Minister are two cases in point. But on any objective analysis, those things well within the capacity of the Coalition to influence and control are, to put it bluntly, being mishandled far too often, and more often than not.

The bickering between the parliamentary wing of the government and the PMO has gone on too long; it is never a good look for these matters to be laid out before the public. The fact they are reflects in this case the justified frustration of both Coalition MPs and of others, beyond the parliamentary realm but firmly committed to the success of the government, and all of whom can see the growing stain being left on it: and the likely electoral consequences of the “simply stand firm” approach that is being taken too often, and almost entirely in relation to the wrong things to be defending in the first place.

If Ms Credlin wanted to do the government a real favour, she would marshal her minions to see a ministerial reshuffle occurs in the new year, along with a critical and wholesale stocktake of who in the adviser pool is performing and who, really, is not: loyalty and pride are admirable attributes, but not when their repercussions might include the loss of government at an election after a single term.

That, in short, is where the Abbott government now stands.

It is why, in the latest of a litany of embarrassing confrontations between Ms Credlin (or her hand-picked lieutenants) and other forces within the government, Bishop must prevail, and be seen to prevail: in the actual sense, among government MPs and elsewhere internally, and in the eyes of the public.

Ultimately, the government, its MPs and its ministers are answerable to voters, not to some jumped-up unelected adviser whose influence is arguably now doing far more damage than good: and it would be wise, even if for no better reason than self-preservation, for the likes of Ms Credlin and those in charge of the mechanics of what has been a poorly operated government, to take stock — and to respond accordingly, whilst the time and opportunity to do so still exist.



10 thoughts on “Bishop Must Prevail In Stoush With Credlin

  1. You are right and wrong Yale. Clearly elected reps. should prevail and clearly the Pms’ office is a disaster. However Julie Bishop has just given $200million of our money to UN green carpetbaggers! The reason Abbott became leader of the party was his stand against such nonsense. In this case, Julie Bishop should be repudiated! Tin ear Tony has struck again.

  2. Govts always deal with things out of their control, the measure of them is how they deal with it. Credlin’s central control seems adrift though with Liberal Party philosophy but where they seem to be falling down is she has not got the power, or Abbott hasn’t, to wield that central control. Looking from the outside I don’t know whether that’s philosophical or managerial but it certainly has an element of mistrust that the messages coming from the PMO clearly aren’t working and that the Govt is being attacked from all sides but no one has the clout or leadership to be able to circle the wagons. There is a real problem of narrative Yale, and until they sort these matters and focus on developing a narrative , no amount of laying blame of Shorten, the Senate, or Palmer , or whoever will fix it.

  3. O tempora, o mores.
    Older readers will remember similar instances both in politics and in life. The Kennet government springs to mind, and any number of business failures and successes where management change was needed or stayed too long. The need for a change agent in Kennet became evident to all and the required discipline and cutbacks accepted. Then after the change, that type of management no longer held favour or quite simply wasn’t up to the job for the new phase that requires a different style for implementation and consolidation and this may well be the case given the dodos from Victoria that have migrated North. In this case, the elected Bishop must prevail but only against Credlin and Co, but it should also be remembered that Tony Abbot was elected leader on the grass roots premise to stop Malcom’s climate change adventurism and all that went with it.
    We do not seem to have a cogent answer or policy in sight.

  4. I endeavour not to be rusted on to any particular political party, and try to view politics with a bit of common-sense and common decency. Well, that’s what I try to do most of the time, and I’m sure there will be those who would tell me I fail at doing this. Oh well, we’re all “entitled” to our own opinions.
    Regardless, there’s very little of the above article that I could disagree with. I think many of her actions will eventually cause the party to implode. An advisor is an advisor, not a director.
    But over controlling has its own downside and will normally bring the controller undone.
    Labor had many faults, the coalition also has many faults. Australia is the loser when it comes to the poor quality of politicians, in general, from both sides, that we’ve been landed with in recent years.
    (Again, I’m looking at both sides) Maybe the those unelected people who work in the shadows are trying to prop up an elected group of poor quality. Trying to make them look good. Who knows?
    Hopefully, in the not too distant, the quality of our pollies will become more statesman like.

    I’m not saying I predicted any of this, but here’s a cartoon I did about 4 months before the last election . . . .


  5. The Credlin factor which was such a determinant in Abbott winning may well be the determinant in his downfall.

    She is referred to as “the boss” by Abbott, she is the puppet master and although having never faced the electorate, she appears to be co prime minister with Abbott. Does the inflexibility and blind belief in the budget policy stem from Joe Hockey, Tony Abbott or her, a lot of political capital has been used up over the budget with no gain and the polls are truly awful after such a short time in power – if she is the architect of this then she is surely a poor political strategist in government.

    The next instalment of the Bishop/Credlin saga will be fascinating, and Tony Abbott is merely a bystander in this unless he decides to get his hands dirty which looks increasingly unlikely.

  6. The Coalition is trying to win the hearts and minds of the Commies and Fascists and in doing so has simply shit all over the very people that put them in power. Tony, Joe, Pyne, Julie, and the gang need to make some decisions quickly.

    a) Either global warming is all bullshit or it’s not. There is absolutely positively no evidence that supports it. There is around 1100 scholarly peer reviewed papers that says it is not. Blind Freddy could tell that support it are scammers. A survey of six million people bu the UN shows that it is a dead horse. Tony and crew need to get off the fence and decide which position they want to take. This last little adventure in Lima is a disgrace. By and large, the majority that gave this government its power knows that the whole thing is phony. We have been betrayed.

    b) Either gay marriage is an admirable aspiration or it’s not. Belief tn the sanctity of marriage being a contract between a man and a woman is not an affront to those who prefer the same gender. What possible excuse is there for them to be married? If two men or two women co-habit, society regards them as the spouse of one another, in every feasible legal aspect. Why is this not sufficient? What is the Coalition’s opinion on this?

    c) Either the Islamification of Australia is a good thing or it’s not. There is nothing to support the idea that Islam is a religion and plenty, especially overseas, to support the fact that it is a dangerous ideology. That is not to say that everyone who prays to Allah does not belong. Given the strife unbridled immigration has caused in Europe, does the Coalition take a stand on Australian sovereignty and is prepared to take a stand that it is the country that decides who comes and who does not, and not the UNelected UN democratic Shysters in New York. Does the Coalition take a stand or not?

    d) Either abortion is okay or it’s not. Either it is murder or it is not. Time to get off the fence. Which one is it?

    e) Either the GST should be increased or it shouldn’t be. Income tax is a punitive tax which punishes the productive. A sales tax is a punitive tax that discourages waste and largesse. Either one is a poor substitute for reducing spending through smaller government. Does the Coalition accept that is is hypocritical on the one had to preach saving and at the same time piss money away on such nonsense as PPL, NDIS, NBN, obsolete destroyers, and aircraft that will never fly, or does it stand behind a commitment to reduce spending.

    It seems to me that Tony and company alter these decisions daily to suit the direction the wind is coming from. The wind from the opposition smells like a Noth wind off a manure pile.

    • An eloquent complementary argument indeed, karabar. Couldn’t have put it better myself. People want the choice between a proper social democratic party and a proper conservative party, and whilst I don’t really care about the Left I do know the Liberals are not a conservative party. They aren’t even a liberal party. It’s that “David Cameron Syndrome” — in trying to please everyone and offend no-one you actually please nobody. Cameron squandered the opportunity to bury Labour in Britain five years ago with this approach. Now we are repeating the same mistake here.

      • I’m beginning to look carefully at the Australian Liberty Alliance. So far as I am concerned this country needs a UKIP. Family First might come close, but it will never be anything more than a one horse shay. Nick Xylophone and his centrist approach is bound to be a loser. You can’t please all of the people all of the time. I think that if one listens to all of the addresses in the senate by David Leyonhjelm, the shear logic and rationale overpower the combined contribution of any other politician in our time. However the LDP has some internal squabbles. Unfortunately, I’m afraid the entire Aussie society may be in tatters before a shiny new alternative pony could get any traction. Nonetheless, the ALA manifesto is a document that one can grip.

  7. Great column Yale and the central argument is spot on. Mind you this comment “If anyone inside the little unelected cabal running the government disagrees…” is something to discuss. Credlin gets all the credit but there is a little group inside the PMO’s office beyond her.

  8. An interesting conundrum here. They say that a definition of insanity is to strongly believe two mutually exclusive things. In this case we have the ALP believing that Abbott is a misogynist who hates women and cannot stand them in positions of power. At the same time they also believe that Abbott is some sort of puppet dancing to the tune of his female Chief of Staff.

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