Peta Credlin, Tony Abbott’s chief of staff, is the biggest control freak in Canberra — with the notable exception of Kevin Rudd. She travels everywhere with the opposition leader, pulls Liberal MPs into line when they veer off message, and is driving the Coalition’s relentlessly negative agenda.
“She’s tough, she’s a player, she makes demands, she gives directions, she bawls people out,” says one Liberal insider. “She’s not afraid of stabbing someone in the front if she needs to,” says another.
And it’s not just the Tories who’ve felt her wrath. Last week, Credlin, 40, was threatened with permanent expulsion from the House of Representatives for heckling Julia Gillard and Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese during question time.
According to well-placed Liberal sources, she didn’t tell Albanese to “bugger off”, as has previously been reported. She called him an “idiot”.
Earlier in the week, opposition attack dog George Brandis had used a private text message exchange between Credlin and Gillard’s chief of staff Ben Hubbard to hound Labor over the Australia Day Tent Embassy fracas.
One of Gillard’s senior advisers tells The Power Index the leak was “extraordinary — a massive breach of trust”. Credlin declined The Power Index‘s request for an interview, but we understand she maintains she did nothing wrong.
Six foot tall, with a long face and a mane of brown hair, Credlin’s an imposing figure with an imposing personality. Her authority within Abbott’s office is absolute — and extends far beyond it. She’s worked closely with Scott Morrison on asylum seekers and George Brandis on the pursuit of Craig Thomson.
An unabashed populist, Credlin’s from the Graham Richardson “whatever it takes” school of politics. Getting Abbott into the Lodge is her all-consuming passion.
“She’s not a policy-driven person,” says an adviser who worked closely with her in Brendan Nelson’s office. “She was too interested in playing silly buggers.”
Many Liberals, especially the more ideologically inclined, are fed up with her focus on short-term politics and authoritarian style. Some have even stooped as low as spreading vicious — and untrue — tales about her personal life and travel expenses.
Such tactics are, of course, inexcusable. But it’s a fact that there’s little scope for Liberals to complain internally about Credlin’s performance. Abbott trusts her implicitly — and you’ve got to be brave to go to Brian Loughnane, the Liberal Party’s federal director, to criticise her. He’s her husband.
Former federal Liberal treasurer Michael Yabsley reportedly told friends that when he rang Loughnane to discuss concerns about Abbott’s office last year, he replied: “I’ll tell Peta when she gets out of the shower.” Yabsley, gobsmacked, wondered why he bothered.
So did Peter Reith last June when Abbott, after urging him to run for the Liberal Party presidency, switched his vote to the incumbent Alan Stockdale. Credlin and Loughnane, fearing an organisational shake-up, played a crucial role in Abbott’s change of mind.
The pair met in 2001: Credlin was a staffer for federal communications minister Richard Alston, Loughnane was the Liberal Party’s Victorian director. A day before their wedding, the couple learned Loughnane had been appointed the party’s federal director.
That’s why Credlin resumed her career in Canberra as a Liberal staffer. Determined to rise through the ranks on her own merits, she turned down an offer from John Howard’s chief of staff, Arthur Sinodinos, to find her a COS position, taking up a job with defence minister Robert Hill instead.
Stints as a senior adviser to Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull (not chief of staff as has previously been reported) then followed.
Credlin, never close to Turnbull, had accepted a job with Corrs Chambers Westgarth, a top Melbourne law firm, before Abbott took over the leadership. Since then, she’s never looked back.