THE ODIOUS NOTION that Prime Ministerial Chief of Staff Peta Credlin could be offered a seat in Parliament to solve the problem she clearly poses to the government in her present position is no solution at all; whether at or before the next election and ruled out by Liberal Party figures in Victoria for now, Credlin is the last person the party should reward with such a sinecure. Should it attempt to do so, your columnist would feel obliged to act.
The tiny proportion of the readership of this column whom I know personally are well aware of the fact I have no aspirations to an elected parliamentary career whatsoever; it took many years for me to arrive at that position, and included several periods of contemplation, even going so far as to single out state politics as my preferred field if I did stand. But in the end, I decided long ago that my true political ambitions lay as an adviser on strategy: the life of an elected representative was not for me.
Those same readers also know that if Peta Credlin is ever endorsed by the Liberal Party for a lower house seat in Victoria, at either state or federal level, I would resign from the Liberal Party the same day and contest whatever electorate she stood in as an Independent Conservative.
I have been moved to post on this subject on account of an article appearing in The Weekend Australian, which reports that the Liberals’ upper echelons in Victoria are moving to scuttle the prospect of Credlin being parachuted into a vacant safe seat as a way of getting her out of her present role as Chief of Staff at the Prime Minister’s Office, with one (unnamed) senior Liberal source telling the paper that Credlin is “too toxic” to be fielded as a Liberal candidate, and that her preselection will not happen.
Yet I have heard, intermittently, ever since the Coalition won office in 2013 that Credlin would at some point be provided safe passage to a safe Liberal seat; partly as a reward for services rendered, and partly as a way of getting rid of her from a role in which she is clearly doing enormous political damage to the government whilst allowing her the face-saving option of remaining in Canberra as an MP.
No. No. No!
The case against Credlin remaining in her present role — or any subsequent employment role obtained at the behest of the Liberal Party, quite frankly — is one that has been made repeatedly and at length in this column, and those readers who aren’t up with what we have been talking about can access archival material about Credlin by clicking the “Peta Credlin” entry in the tag cloud at the lower right of this article; there is no need to exhaustively present this material again now.
I would note, however, that since warding off a spill of his leadership Prime Minister Tony Abbott continues to refuse to either ask for Credlin’s resignation or to dismiss her, and it is well known that the hostility, frustration and open anger generated by Credlin’s activities translated into actual votes to spill the Liberal leadership: evidence, were any required, of the estimation many of her closest colleagues really hold her in.
Faced with the prospect of yet another budget from a Treasurer who should have been removed in the December reshuffle and confronted by an entrenched losing position in every opinion poll in the country, the message to Abbott before the spill, in some quarters, was blunt: get rid of her, or we get rid of you in order to get rid of her.
Despite some assurances to the contrary that were reportedly given to shore up his position, it’s a warning that appears to have been ignored.
Without rehashing the details, I have observed that virtually everything wrong with the state of the Abbott government’s political health can be traced, directly or indirectly, to the PMO and thus to Credlin: and with a first-term government elected by a thumping margin seemingly on a collision course with a humiliating election defeat — in large part as a consequence of the regime running the government at Credlin’s instigation — I’d suggest the only reward her “services” warrant is her ejection from Canberra (or any other sinecure of influence or importance in the Liberal Party) with the print from a steel-capped boot in her arse.
I’m sorry if my bluntness offends some readers, but I feel very strongly about this: initially aggrieved to have been vetoed as an adviser on a government-wide basis by the so-called “star chamber” dominated by Credlin, and later horrified and
angered incensed by stories of petty narcissism, tactical and strategic incompetence, and sheer political ineptitude that have emanated from Canberra with Credlin at their epicentre, I have to call it as it is.
As with all of the rumours that Credlin would be off-loaded from the PMO to a seat in Parliament, the speculation in The Weekend Australian focuses on Defence minister Kevin Andrews’ safe seat of Menzies, in Melbourne’s north-east, and the persistence of this particular electorate being linked with that particular individual is unlikely to be coincidental.
No coincidence, either, can be found in the fact that Andrews’ name was linked with the Ambassadorship to the Holy See even before the Coalition returned to government; as a deeply religious man and committed Catholic — to say nothing of the experience he has accrued in government, at law and in the community — Andrews would seem an ideal choice for the role when it becomes available later in the year, and were he to be appointed, it would necessitate a by-election in Menzies.
I would hope that if the circumstances were to eventuate, good sense would prevail, and that any attempt to install Credlin in this plush blue-ribbon electorate would be knocked on the head in very short order.
But if it isn’t, I would feel obliged — on principle, in protest, and even if destined to be defeated — to resign from the Liberal Party in order to stand against her.
For those readers unfamiliar with Liberal Party rules, members are not permitted to stand against the party’s endorsed candidates — such a move would invite expulsion.
And a by-election atmosphere is no longer the prerequisite it once was to cause a boilover in a given electorate; Cathy McGowan’s win in Indi at the 2013 federal election is a good example of this where the Liberals are concerned.
But a by-election would permit the National Party to contest the seat without violating the terms of its coalition agreement with the Liberals; given some in the National Party are known to share the resentment and hostility felt by some of their Liberal counterparts where Ms Credlin is concerned, and in view of the fact that the north-east of the electorate extends away from the suburban corridor toward areas a National might garner significant support, it would make sense for the junior coalition partner to step into the field in this scenario.
Their preferences could go anywhere before being directed to the Liberal Party, too, without breaching the coalition agreement.
There are leaders of business and industry who have received the “Credlin treatment” — with access to the Prime Minister either curtailed or prevented altogether — who might be prepared to help fund an orchestrated campaign from the Right to deny Credlin entry to Parliament.
And I would doubt very much how thrilled the good burghers of Doncaster, Templestowe, Bulleen, Warrandyte and Croydon might be at the prospect of having such an incendiary and divisive individual as Peta Credlin foisted on them in order to get rid of her from the mess she has made of the government’s critical internal infrastructure.
In short, Ms Credlin would be facing a formidably-resourced onslaught that would make victory difficult for her, no matter how safely held Menzies might be on paper.
Of course, nothing could come of it; perhaps the party’s hierarchy will make good on its threat and prevent Credlin being endorsed for any of its seats, all of which would be better served by different candidates.
But for the same reasons the government is now staring down the barrel of an electoral gun whenever the next election is held, Peta Credlin should never be handed preselection by the Liberal Party, and certainly not in a seat it holds by a margin of almost 15%.
If she wants to try her luck in Wills or Gellibrand or Gorton or similar, I’d have no objection: after all, someone has to wave the flag for the Liberal Party in Labor’s safest seats. I did it myself 20 years ago. Were Credlin to stand in such an electorate I’d suggest it would amount to the best service to the party she has ever rendered.
But for someone who was given almost untrammelled control of the workings of the Abbott government and botched the job to the point a humiliating election defeat now appears likely, the last thing Credlin deserves is the gift of a precious safe Liberal electorate in exchange for the wreckage she has engineered.
At some stage the mentality that simply because the likes of Credlin (or her husband, federal director Brian Loughnane) are “our key people” they are beyond reproach must be dispensed with; the evidence that they, and many others like them across the country, have served the party exceedingly badly is piling up.
Election defeats in Victoria and Queensland are the first manifestations of this evidence. More will follow in the absence of meaningful change.
At some stage, those with far more influence and power in the party than I will ever have are going to have to get rid of these people; as long as they stay in the party they will position themselves at or near the levers of its management, and the longer they are allowed to do so, the greater the party’s disconnect from the ordinary people it purports to represent will grow.
And if anyone thinks I’m joking about standing against Credlin if she is endorsed in Menzies, I assure them I’m not: very few things could motivate me to stand for a seat in Parliament, but in the interests of righting a wrong and preventing further injury to the Liberal Party’s longer-term welfare, I’d do anything within the law to ensure she did not win that seat.
I’ll be back later tonight or in the morning with something else: and hopefully something that has nothing to do with Peta Credlin, a specimen I am sick of talking about, but we’ll see.