Moving Credlin On Not About Dishonour

THE PUSH for the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Peta Credlin, to either resign or be sacked is gathering pace, with unnamed senior figures within the Coalition and prominent identities outside it noting the Prime Minister’s Office is disproportionately responsible for the political problems faced by the Abbott government. Whilst this column agrees an overhaul of the PMO is crucial, removing Credlin need not be an acrimonious exercise.

A very brief comment this morning — and then tonight, perhaps, we will be able to turn our attention north of the Tweed to the state election campaign in Queensland.

In recent months and particularly over the last week, we have talked at length about the need for the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Peta Credlin, to be moved on, and typically enough the Fairfax press has leapt into the fray today with a conspiratorial slant on whether Credlin stays or goes.

The added voice of News Limited supremo Rupert Murdoch to those arguing for her removal has provided an empty boon to those whose brand of conspiracy theory includes the idiotic idea Murdoch runs the Coalition, when in this case at least Murdoch’s sentiments merely echo those of an increasing number connected to the Liberal Party who recognise the dysfunction of the Prime Minister’s Office under Ms Credlin’s stewardship, and that failure to resolve it will probably cost the Coalition government at the next election.

If, indeed, it isn’t already too late to avoid such an outcome.

I simply say that if Ms Credlin is forced to move on, it wouldn’t be the first time that a senior adviser charged with the top-level political co-ordination of a major party who was indisputably brilliant in opposition — and through the process of winning office at an election — proved unsuited to the rigours of government once the transition from opposition had been made.

We have detailed at length everything that is wrong with the Abbott government — policy, media strategy, parliamentary tactics, an inability to communicate with either government minions or the wider public, the ridiculous centralised staff recruitment veto (akin to the CEO of McDonald’s personally vetting applicants for dishwashing positions) and the near-total disconnect between what is done by the government, vetted and authorised and checked off by the PMO, and the real-world, actual reality of attitudes and expectations and circumstances in the broader electorate.

It is true that the regime of iron-fisted micromanagement established under Ms Credlin’s leadership underpins most of these failings.

I have opined in the past that Tony Abbott’s loyalty to Ms Credlin — nay, the expressions of gratitude for her contribution in bringing the Coalition out of opposition, including observations made by some of those who defend her on the basis the Coalition wouldn’t have won without her — is admirable, and shows an attachment to principle in this regard that is increasingly rare in political life.

But as I have also said, even those of the most scrupulously unimpeachable integrity know that loyalty, taken too far, can become blind.

Should Ms Credlin be forced to move on, it would provide the government with a real opportunity to reset itself, as opposed to rhetoric about barnacle scrapes and similar rubbish that have to date been followed by more ham-fisted politics from the government, more bungling, and more of the same flaccid tactics over issues such as Medicare and the dreadful 2014 budget the government is unwisely clinging to as its hope for salvation.

And it would do so (to answer a question from one perturbed reader and Liberal voter I encountered yesterday afternoon) by enabling the overhaul of structures, reporting lines and channels of communication in and out of the PMO — and through the whole of government generally — without such changes being interpreted as a slap in the face to either the Prime Minister, Credlin herself, or both.

It is clear this government is not working, in the ordinary sense; and it is clear that the problem derives from the very instrument of government that ought to be the spearhead of the attack: the PMO.

In this regard, as chief of staff, Credlin is the responsible official, and she should shoulder the responsibility: half way through a term of Parliament and with re-election beginning to look a seriously bleak proposition, taking that responsibility means a resignation.

She should not, in the decent course of events, force Abbott to dismiss her.

Yet this does not need to be about dishonour, failure, or tearing someone down.

I concur — despite is affecting me adversely — that for all the fault that is able to be found, Ms Credlin has nonetheless done a lot of good for the Coalition, the government, and the Prime Minister himself.

And it is not incompatible to concur that whilst we “couldn’t have got there without her,” we equally can’t afford for her to continue in her present role.

Rather than clamouring for Credlin to be fired, sent home from Canberra in ignominy and made an example of, perhaps it would be better to frame such considerations in a different light.

If Credlin were to candidly admit that opposition and government are too far apart, and that her approach in the former case is too different to that in the latter — and resign — she could become one of this government’s heroes for a selfless placement of the wider team good (and the country’s good) ahead of her own.

Credlin will encounter little trouble finding rewarding employment beyond the confines of Parliament House; she is a talented individual whose experience will simply add to the demand in which she would find herself.

Yet the change at the PMO must be made — and I think the more time that passes in which it isn’t, the clearer the need to do precisely that will become as more and more figures speak out about it: anonymously, of course, so as to avoid retribution if the present regime at the PMO stays in place.

This doesn’t have to be about dishonour. It doesn’t have to be acrimonious. Nonetheless, it does need to happen.