Whatever is left of Tony Abbott’s reputation is about to be shredded with a new book containing a string of revelations about the incompetence of his government, including on questions of national security.
Credlin & Co: How the Abbott Government Destroyed Itself, written by Australian Financial Review journalist Aaron Patrick, differs from many other books on politics due to the author’s forensic and dispassionate approach to the subject.
“I am not trying to push an ideological agenda,” he told The New Daily.
It was commonly said that Tony Abbott’s Chief of Staff Peta Credlin had more power than he did because she made more decisions.
And the most common questions are: Why did Abbott allow the relationship to destroy his Prime Ministership? What peculiar psychology underpinned their relationship? Why did he ignore the advice coming from so many elder statesmen of his own party, as well as the repeated criticisms from the nation’s media?
She was his disciplinarian, his brain.
“Peta Credlin became his best friend, strongest ally, his facilitator, his crutch,” Mr Patrick said.
“I present scenarios where Ms Credlin was so aggressive, where she tried to exert control across the government, and give specific examples. Normal government processes broke down because Ms Credlin tried to exert so much power.”
The question of whether the attacks on Peta Credlin were sexist, as Abbott repeatedly claimed, is explored in depth. “I came to the conclusion they were not,” Mr Patrick said.
“I make the case that the attacks on Ms Credlin were driven by her actions, not her gender. She wanted to be the story, she loved being the story. Ego, desire for power, fame, that was what she wanted, that was what she got, that was what she enjoyed. And it destroyed both of them.”
Credlin big on defence
Tony Abbott was hardly the first politician to use terror and national security to advance his own ends, but perhaps one of the first to allow his chief of staff to play such a decisive role,” Mr Patrick said.
“Tony Abbott used war for political purposes and I explore that in some depth,” the author said. “Ms Credlin played a central role. The book explores her influence over national security policy. In his dying days Abbott reached out to the terror threat as a dying man reaches out to water. It was an issue they thought would save them.”
Included in the book are previously unpublished revelations about Ms Credlin’s interaction with the Defence Department.
One shining light
One of the few people to emerge from Credlin & Co in a positive light is Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who Mr Patrick said withstood Credlin’s ceaseless bullying. The book reveals new details of the two women’s falling out.
Abbott used Credlin as a crutch to do his dirty work, trying to enforce his socially conservative agenda across the whole of government. Australians are not like that. We are a liberal society.
“There is a whole sub-chapter on the powerplay between Bishop and Credlin,” Patrick said. “She was tough enough to stand up and say no, but they tried it on. Bishop comes out looking much better than most other people.”
Mr Patrick said while both Ms Credlin and Mr Abbott refused to speak to him for the book, he was surprised by how much assistance others gave him, figures within the Liberal Party and within the bureaucracy.
“Ms Credlin alienated so many people, she just destroyed a lot of Mr Abbott’s good will within his own party,” Mr Patrick said.
While refusing to reveal his sources, Canberra’s senior mandarins (public servants), many of whom disliked Mr Abbott and Ms Credlin intensely, are also believed to have helped provide background for the book.
“The official channels were shut, but the others weren’t,” he said. “It made the book better.”
‘Like looking at a car crash’
As to why the Australian public continue to be fascinated by Abbott in a kind of gawkish way, as if rubbernecking at a car crash, Mr Patrick said: “In terms of the book, I am glad Abbott is hanging around.
“Abbott is still a story, and the effect he is going to have on the Australian government is an open question.
“Abbott was born in England in the 1950s and he is still a creature of it. He represents a narrow strand in Australian culture which is in many ways more British than Australian, and that is part of the reason why he was unsuccessful.
“He is not a modern Australian. To be an effective leader you need to engage across the ideological spectrum.
“Abbott used Credlin as a crutch to do his dirty work, trying to enforce his socially conservative agenda across the whole of government. Australians are not like that. We are a liberal society.
“People have a fascination for Abbott because he is a truly weird man, and he got to be Prime Minister, which is pretty remarkable.”
Credlin & Co: How the Abbott Government Destroyed Itself will be available from February 1.
Mr Patrick’s first book, Downfall: How the Labor Government Ripped Itself Apart, was published in 2013.