When the history of this current Liberal-National government is written (Troy Bramston already has his pen ready) the name Peta Credlin will be as important as the name of any of its Prime Ministers. She is the woman who led Tony Abbott’s charge into government in 2013 – and came within an inch in 2010 – and later became the most powerful and controversial chief of staff this country has ever seen.
What of her effectiveness in that role: her power over that government and the man who came to be seen as her Prime Minister? Well, that’s a story you’ve heard a million times and no doubt Peta Credlin will give a full account in due course. But even with the trappings of prime ministerial power far behind her, Credlin’s influence is being felt every day of this 2016 campaign.
Why? Because of her new role as a media commentator. Credlin is now a columnist for Murdoch’s Sunday tabloids and a regular fixture on Sky News. And boy, oh boy, do we love reporting every single sentence she utters. Of course she is seen by a lot of people in this campaign as a proxy for Tony Abbott and many more hope she’ll cause further leadership trouble.
And she’s certainly made life difficult for the new captain of her old team. Her column blasting Malcolm Turnbull for his absence at the arrival of the bodies of fallen Vietnam War soldiers – and subsequent failure to apologise – has created plenty of shockwaves. And who has ever better defined our limping Prime Minister better than she did? ‘Mr Harbourside Mansion’ will haunt Mr Turnbull as long as he remains in the Lodge.
But are we all just lusting out of schadenfreude for more firebombs from this Amazonian warrior queen of a staffer? Are we just longing for her to give Turnbull the final blow?
Well no, we are all watching Credlin because she is a star and (most of the time) she’s been absolutely right about this election. Her appearances on Sky have not been electric because she’s spouting off like the mad woman in the attic about that horrible Mr Turnbull. In fact, it takes a lot for Sky News’ best and brightest to get a truly acid-tonged remark out of her (though hearing her say the word ‘horseshit’ on Paul Murray Live was a delight).
Credlin has provided something invaluable in this year’s election coverage – an actual understanding of how election campaigns work. She understands the mechanics of campaigns, the things that keep the tireless men and women at campaign headquarters awake at night, and cut through all the blather we usually hear as few ever have.
And she does it with great poise and dignity – she speaks softly and carries a whopper of a stick. Who would have guessed this authoritative, soft-spoken, very shrewd woman was the Great Banshee who spelled the doom of the Abbott Government?
Credlin has certainly got better on Sky – after a couple of uncertain appearances, she’s now a master in front of the camera – and her appearances are must-watch moments of political telly. Perhaps none more so than her weekly appearances with that Hillary Clinton of Sussex St, former New South Wales Premier Kristina Keneally. How gratifying and instructive it is to see those two warriors together, rolling their eyes at the current mob and telling us how politics really works.
And aren’t we all just hanging on to see a restored and resplendent Graham Richardson doing battle with Tony Abbott’s number one woman? There’s a pair of ‘faceless persons’ turned political TV stars who would be irresistible as Bonnie and Clyde together.
There have been concerns in the media that Credlin has been plucked out of the fire too soon, that her time in government is all too fresh. There has even been the wonder, from the suggestion of the AFR’s Phil Coorey, that if this woman were such a terror of a chief of staff in a flailing government, how can she now be presented as a political guru?
Okay, her time as Tony Abbott’s chief of staff was controversial and huge mistakes were made in the running of the PM’s office. There’s no getting around that and it will be part of Peta Credlin’s legacy – and Tony Abbott’s – for the rest of her days. But this is the woman who groomed the most unelectable Liberal you could find into a man who won a landslide and pulverised two Labour Prime Ministers. By all means avoid asking Peta Credlin to comment on the everyday processes of cabinet government. But how can anyone deny that this particular commentator knows more than the devil’s grandmother about winning elections?
And no, it’s not too soon. Peta Credlin is not acting as some angel of vengeance each day on Sky with the intention of smiting her enemies. Any rage she may feel has been pulled back to the point of invisibility and her analysis of this campaign has been scrupulously fair. It’s hard to see Credlin’s transformation as any kind of plot to regain control of the PM’s office.
If anything her appearances on Sky suggest she’s someone who should really have been in Parliament. Her communication skills, her ability to remain self-possessed on camera, are much higher than many members of the Coalition frontbench. Perhaps a place in the ministry would have been a better fit for her than the drudgework of running Tony Abbott. This path is obviously rendered impossible for the indefinite future by the events of the 2015 coup, but maybe one day we’ll see Peta Credlin on Sky as a power in the land rather than a puppet mistress.
For the next few weeks, expect to hear more about ‘Peta Credlin’s Shock Comments’ and how ‘Peta Credlin Totally Hates Malcolm Turnbull’s Guts’. But Sky News’s decision to make the former staffer part of their on-screen family has done wonders for them and her. For Sky, it means nabbing a star who brings expert analysis and commands spellbound attention.
For Peta Credlin, it’s a chance to reinvent herself, to show the public the face behind the caricature. And how she’s run with that chance. Let’s hope that Peta Credlin remains a fixture on our screens for many years to come until she wants something bigger. Let’s face it, our political world would definitely be poorer without this woman.
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