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Cherchez la femme! Credlin, and Abbott’s downfall

Journalist Peter Hartcher has written an analysis of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s downfall, titled Shirtfronted, and published in five episodes in the Fairfax press this week.

Episode two is all about Peta. Credlin, that is, Abbott’s controversial former chief of staff, who is, practically universally it appears, credited with contributing in a rather spectacular manner to his downfall.

Hartcher describes the relationship between Abbott and Credlin as “co-dependent,”citing the former PM’s “agitation” when separated from Credlin in the most ordinary of ways, such as having to travel in separate cars, or not having her arrive as expected out of a lift. These type of anxieties are more usually associated with that stage of infancy when the baby is becoming aware that its mother is a separate entity and not an extension of its own being, and every separation and absence is regarded by the infant as a catastrophic abandonment of the self that provokes intolerable anxiety.

So I guess Hartcher’s use of the clinical term “co-dependent” is appropriate in the circumstances. It certainly sounds like a psychologically mangled union, and one wonders how Abbott’s wife, Margie, tolerates her husband’s intense and very public emotional involvement with another woman. As another of the symptoms of co-dependency is tolerating and thus enabling a partner’s destructive and self-destructive behaviours, maybe the diagnosis extends to the marriage as well.

Be that as it may, I am conflicted about the criticisms directed towards Credlin by the LNP, journalists and commentators, not because I’ve read anything about Ms Credlin that causes me to feel sympathy for her, or empathy, but because it is impossible to tell in a situation such as this how much of that criticism is to do with her actions, and how much is fuelled by sexism and anti-woman attitudes and resentments. There’s a cohort of males (supported by co-dependent females) who tend to blame women simply because we exist, with our breasts and our vaginas and our sexuality, not to mention our opinions.

This cohort tends to be conservative, religious, controlling, and threatened by anyone who is not them, and many are to be found in political circles as well as in the fourth estate. So while Peta Credlin has by all accounts behaved offensively on many occasions to many people, one has to remember who is narrating events.

Abbott’s extraordinary protectiveness towards Credlin seems to indicate he put her well-being before his own, and that of his party. She did/does indeed have excessive control over his emotions and his psychology, causing him to blind himself to the consequences of his bizarre loyalty to her.

His need of her, powerful enough to cause him to put at risk the job he’d craved for years, certainly sounds self-destructive, and it must have been particularly galling for his ministers to understand that in any fight, he’d be on Peta’s side, not theirs. You’re just a staffer, Credlin is reminded by Eric Abetz after a rather tumultuous episode, at which Abbott was present. She’ll apologise in her own way, the PM told Abetz, who apparently never noticed if she did.

Then there’s the tearful tantrum Credlin threw over The Australian’s journalist Nikki Savva’s criticism of her, when both she and Abbott attempted to have Savva sacked as retribution. “I don’t have to put up with this shit!” Credlin reportedly howled.

Personally, I think Abbott would have gone with or without Credlin’s influence, however, their relationship can’t have helped his cause, internally or in the public sphere. What the Credlin factor actually demonstrates is Abbott’s weakness of character: the leader of a country isn’t in the job to prioritise his personal emotional and psychological cravings over the welfare of his party and his country. Abbott did just that, making him even more dangerously untrustworthy all round than he was already.

Abbott’s main concern was always Abbott, and will remain so. Even his protection of Credlin was essentially about himself: he needed her, and had to keep her by his side in order for him to function.

Hopefully, none of this will concern us again to any great extent. He was a most unsuitable leader, who made his personal needs and bizarre ideology central to policy-making, not the needs of the country and its people.

Any PM who can’t stand on his own two feet, as Abbott clearly could not, is bad for the country he leads, and about as far from being adult as anyone can be.

The personal is still and always will be political. Yet we almost always underestimate its influence, to our cost.

The article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.




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  1. David

    Credlin’s attitude I knew of, as seen and read via the media. I detested her because of it, and of her close alliance with the most reviled of PM’s in Abbott. That for me put them in the same boat.
    If they had an intimate personal relationship, it was obviously conducted in the greatest secrecy, however I doubt it was of a physical nature, there were too many around Abbott most of the time for it to remain secret. Remembering Ms Credlin was his COS while he was leader of the Opposition, that’s 7 yrs for Abbott to hide an affair, practically impossible. But who knows? Certainly they wont be telling all.

    My main beef with the woman in question is this statement…’Credlin herself says that she was the victim of sexism. She would explain repeatedly during her time in office that “because I am female, and I’m not 20 stone, and I’m in a position of power, the media put me on the front page and on the TV in a way they never did with Arthur Sinodinos”.
    For Ms Credlin to complain about sexism is just too damn rich. Her hatred of Julia Gillard must have given Abbott all the ammunition he required for his disgusting sexist attacks on the then PM.
    She was photographed walking from the advisers box when they were in Opposition carrying a file clearly labelled Gillard/AWU
    It wasn’t full of happy snaps or get well cards


    So for mine she was evil, and the driving force rekindling all that was bad about Abbott…if she had a soft caring side, it never materialised in any public documentation or vision. Frankly they can both go to Hell

  2. Sen Nearly Ile

    If true, it is amazing that the rabbott thought turnball was a costello to his howard(dementia pugilistica???)
    It is easy in hindsight, to see labor’s chance was to leave the rabbott to himself and concentrate on discrediting robb(FTAs subs to japan to facilitate signing, unlimited 457 for chinese to break union wages), the copper hypocrite(NBN), the slimey morrison(operation secrecy and paying smugglers), duffer dutton(duh) and the pyne nut(compound debt).
    With little billy’s ability to savage these men with the ferocity of a geoffrey howe, He, as expected, would be utterly helpless in profiting from the demise of a woman. Indeed, perhaps remembering his dumping of gillard, the only shorten comments, in my memory, were in support of credlin.
    ps Any women in turnball’s staff or Shorten’s?????

  3. paul walter

    Having read Hartcher’s series (up to Hockey), it’s difficult to avoid commenting, even if it is a difficult topic because of underlying cultural aspects Wilson identifies involving gender reactionism

    David developed things well with his comment, because clearly both Credlin and Abbott were unconsciously “gendered” and behaviours were conducted within an unrecognised matrix of gender relations that prevented them both from functioning as leaders and as people.

    Wlson would hope, I suspect, that folk don’t go for the easy way out and resort to burn the witch stuff and its an interesting enough story to follow because of the sort of aspects to do with subjective behaviour..eg, what is about their cultural inscription that has had them run about like self will run riot and unable to function as adults.

    Perhaps Dr. Wilson is drawing on long experience in the assessment Abbott and of Credlin, another of these sombre and pious big-haired, dark-eyed Miranda Devine/ Michelle Bachman/ Tankard Reist types, who have somehow been socialised to harsh judgementalism and the pairing with Abbott, a parallel version of the individuation problem, ought to reresent a casebook history for social scientists studying the relationship between unfolding history of which gender politics represents an evolving factor, particularly since the Industrial Age Sexual Division of Labour as to cultural dysfunction, with an example of the negativity inherent of human relationships involving emotionally crippled people within an incomplete culture.


    Which reminds me, dont fail also to read Hartcher on Hockey, another flawed character.

    Hartcher is doing a job on dead political meat, swingingin the wind, to protect the current incumbents, but that doesn’t preclude the possibility of little nuggets of gold resident within the lines of his series.

  4. Andre Poublon

    Very brave of Hartcher. Dead meat doesn’t hit back.

  5. JeffJL

    Seems to me Hartcher was heavily involved in the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd saga. Now here he is with the Abbott/Credlin/Hockey saga.

    Me thinks he is more a player than a reporter. Perhaps he fashions himself on Mr Murdocks’ dad during WW1.

  6. margcal

    It still remains a mystery to me that Abbott became leader of the party, in opposition, let alone as PM.
    What does that say about those who elected him – both in the party and Warringah!

  7. paul walter

    margcal nails it and the point of the post..underneath appearances there is a dark stream of (fostered?) irrationality or madness that demolishes the notion of the rational agent, especially when responses to that are themselves eventually demonstrated to be illogical.

    F’rinstance, the current government seems to feel it should be beleived as to the behaviour of a junior minister, who says one thing and is shown on TV tapes to have said the opposite.

    Hartcher gleefully highlights the worst of Credlin’s behaviours- self will run riot- and you get to wonder at the pathology of conservatives, but his motives are not clean, I’m sure of it.. like all of us and many of his colleagues, from time to time he also would need to look in his own mirror now and then if he were any sort of human being.

  8. Lee

    Who? Why are people still focusing on him?

  9. paul walter

    Lee, I beleive Hartcher is being focussed by Fairfax onto Credlin/ Abbott and Hockey to make Turnbull look more attractive. Abbott is being buried, but in a way that ensures many of his associates avoid getting sent down with him and in a way that attempts to legitimiseTurnbull as prospective “saviour” from the Perils of Abbott/ Hockey/ Credlinism, these three themselves so recently in turn praised as rescuers of Australia from the Perils of Gillard, Rudd and “the Unions” with their round earth carbon policies, and from greens and brown people, intellectuals and anyone else who could think for themselves.

  10. Horatio

    One would think that, between Credlin and his bicycle, Abbott didn’t have a lot of time left for Margie. And as I can’t recall any vision of the couple demonstrating any physical closeness I can only assume that this was OK with her.

  11. Terry2

    Peter Hartcher is doing what a good journalist should do, fleshing out a bizarre period of our political history.

    As margcal notes, it is a mystery to most of us that Abbott ever got elected to Liberal party leadership, albeit by one vote. This aberration was compounded by the Svengali like control of an unelected but obviously ambitious Chief of Staff.

    The Liberal Party has always paid homage at the shrine of Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation and generally they get their reward with front page promotions in the tabloids and simpering editorials in the Australian. When Abbott failed to sack Credlin and she refused to resign as demanded by Murdoch, that unhealthy relationship came to an end and it became inevitable that Murdoch would abandon Abbott which in Liberal party terms made Abbott;s demise just a matter of time.

    I find it highly amusing and a little scary that, on the one hand we have Murdoch tweeting for the sacking of Credlin and Abbott and Credlin calling on News Corporation to sack journalist Nikki Savva.

    Horatio, I think Margie Abbott deserves an Order of Australia – now that Damehoods (?) are no longer available.

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