Razer on Peta Credlin, Niki Savva and primordial female horror

There may be no more convenient means for the Australian reader to scorn tomorrow’s International Women’s Day than by purchase of a book released today. In an understanding based on published excerpts and recently broadcast opinions of its author, The Road to Ruin — how Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin destroyed their own government looks set to advance the lot of my gender every bit as much as the vajacial—another expensive novelty sold to the persistent fear that women are powerfully filthy inside.

In the odd case you’ve not heard, journalist Niki Savva has released a book that claims that the intimacy between former prime minister Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin, his chief of staff, was sufficiently toxic to impede foreign policy, produce a spill and starve Margie Abbott of both affection and actual meals.

Look. I’m all for almost anything that enfeebles the Abbott legacy. And I’m opposed to almost everything that uncritically cheers for the Power Blouse of liberal feminism. But, Savva’s document of Freudian terror is even too much for me. And this is not because the document, which seems to suggest that an entire nation was held hostage by an individual’s Moody Menstrual Calendar, is “bad for women”.

Lots of things are bad for women, and a sensationalistic biography that fails to engage directly with its subjects—and is for this, and other reasons, unlikely to ever emerge as a reliable history—is the least of our concerns.

It’s because Savva attributes the fault of an entire belief system to a single relationship. She deodorises the Coalition by insisting Credlin is responsible for its stink and, in so doing, gives history the equivalent of a vaginal facial.

This is not to diminish the personal injury done to Credlin, a potential future litigant who is perfectly right to be cheesed by claims that her smoky eye and Aerosmith hair were conscious weapons in a wanton war on reason. But, it’s not to overplay it, either. Persons who hold great power can expect great scrutiny and they can also expect a good deal of this to be conducted from the gutter. There never was an age where petty scruples were not brought to bear on public figures — and to claim that it’s harder for girls is to have a very limited civic memory.

It’s just a little different for girls and Savva, despite her apparently reasonable claims that it really didn’t matter if Abbott and Credlin were going at it in a COMCAR hammer-and-tongs (to be clear, the published evidence that they were is non-existent) mines this difference. In excerpts, Credlin emerges as the most cartoonish kind of siren, soaked in the spume of sexist centuries.

The author can claim all she wants that Australians have a right to learn of an alleged rapport between two prominent figures. But, we actually learn from the book itself little about this rapport, we just find out there were partyroom fears it was a bad look. And from the book’s enthusiastic reception, we learn that there is a quaint, persistent faith that certain glamorous women are able to rule men with the merest Kegel flex. Both of which are things we already knew.

And, these were things that Savva, who continues to defend her decision not to speak to either Credlin or Abbott on the curious grounds that they can speak to the charges anytime they want, knew were well-established. Again, to be clear, my understanding of the book is derived entirely from released teasers and Savva’s own, rather prurient defence. But, it seems to me that what we have here is a gynophobia of convenience.

Let’s not blame party-wide policy for the failure of the Abbott government, or for the more recent failings of Abbott’s successor. Let’s say that it wasn’t a political fault, but the fault of primordial female horror.

Psychoanalysis may have fallen very badly out of favour as a way to interpret the culture. But, it seems to me as useful in a reading of Savva as it remains in reading fairytales. Social or political paralysis is not held to be the work of the social or political. It’s the work of some evil queen.

For the last few days, The Australian has been full of covert praise for Savva’s Snow White narrative. Whatever Savva’s personal intention has been in making these non-revelations of passionate political congress, her work suits the agenda of the paper very well. Not for a moment could The Oz be given to consider that the electorate has begun to lose faith in neoliberalism—an agenda concealed more artfully by the Mardi Gras-attending Turnbull than it was by the culturally conservative Abbott. Nah. Public dissatisfaction is all down to some poison vagina apple.

I am of the unfriendly view that anyone who worked as hard as Credlin did to re-establish social inequality in Australia merits no real feminist exertion. To spend too much time defending Credlin against sexism is special pleading. But, to defend Savva’s scandal as history is just as wrongheaded. We have likely learned nothing more useful here than it’s still pretty easy to blame a chick. Even for centuries of now-faltering ideology.

Previously by Helen Razer: 

The Oscars’ Red Carpet: Who Are You Wearing? 

Main image: The cover of Savva’s book The Road to Ruin published by Scribe.

94 responses to “Razer on Peta Credlin, Niki Savva and primordial female horror

  1. I notice that you keep saying that you weren’t writing about the book in justifying your argument. It appears to me that the problem is that you’ve written a piece based on public interest generated by a media beat up about a possible affair. I suggest you read the article by Barry Cassidy in which he points out that the focus on turning the perception of some in government that Abbott’s behaviour might only be explained by an affair (correctly reported by Savva) into a “real” affair has distracted from the fact that we had a PM who seemed incapable of running the government, who allowed an unelected person apparently total control, and who was also incapable of dealing with a bully who happened to be female. A bully like her should be brought into line whether that person is female or male. Cassidy says as much but points the finger at Abbott. Credlin hiding behind the “strong woman” defence is rubbish and you following the same sort of line is no better. Plus I saw no mention of the fact that a man proclaimed a “misogynist” by Gillard went down with his ship defending a woman – doesn’t suit your bias I suspect. Your contribution is just as poor as that from the mainstream media.

  2. But every day, Norman appears out of his hole to contribute absolutely nothing to the topic being discussed. It’s strange. Find a friend Norm.

  3. It’s not every day one comes across a site inhabited by devout believers who, had they been around in Mediaeval Times, would be engrossed in discussions about how many angels could stand on the end of a sewing device.

  4. You can take it seriously, MAX, because so many people went on record (very rare).
    Her husband has been working in parliament for 40 years. But theres no reason for you to know that, so no laughter there.
    BUT…You say you’ve been reading Greg Sheridans columns in the Australian for ‘decades’, but weren’t aware oft his close friendship with Tony Abbott (?)
    Gregs never hidden that fact, Max.
    He’s even apologised for it occasionally, but more often (very often) boasted of it!
    Decades you say? Um… You can’t just read the headline, of an article, Max. You actually have to read the whole body of the text! No wonder you seem a bit confused. You’re not a a friend of Helen Razer, by any chance? (snicker)

    1. The Reply button is your friend.

      To clarify – I’d started reading Sheridan’s columns since about the early ’90s, but stopped reading The Australian ten years ago. So – granted, not the most authoritative Sheridan observer, but for 20 years, that’s still a lot of Sheridan columns (not just the headlines); and no – I’d never once seen him mention the relationship or that he’d gone to university with Abbott. I would remember if I had. You might find that implausible; but too bad.

      (Further to that, most of what I remember Sheridan writing about “friendships” during that period focused on his palling around with various South-East Asian despots and Washington DC flunkies – at that time a bit out of Abbott’s league, one would’ve thought.)

      Nope, not a friend of Helen Razer’s; never met her, don’t live in her state, never corresponded. I assume you’re implying my comment is meant as a defence of her; I’m not sure how it reads as either a defence or an attack.

      The broader point I was making – with which I’d hope any sane reader would concur – is that if, as you say, her husband has been working in parliament for 40 years and she’s been around Canberra nearly that long in various capacities on both sides of the press/pollies divide, then her objectivity and impartiality is hopelessly compromised. Just as it is for probably most of the “journalists” working the same beat.

      The fact that “so many people went on record” is neither here nor there. Her motive for writing the book at all, much less seeking out all those prepared to be quoted, is the only matter of relevance to ordinary taxpayers wishing to make sense of what is published. Any hack can write a hatchet job, and any public figure can deserve one. But some purer motives would be nice once in a while.

  5. When I first heard about all this, I remembered first encountering Nikki Savva’s name in print as an ex-Fairfax journo who went to work for Peter Costello when he was in office. Once he was out, she wrote a book about it and then went back to political reporting for Murdoch. A fairy standard trajectory for plenty of politics journos it would seem: Join the government’s PR team when your side is in, carp from the sidelines as a panelist when your side is out. So far, so typical.

    Of course, the dimension added to this is that during the Howard years, Costello and Abbot were rivals; so inasfar as Savva still has loyalty to Costello, I interpreted her new book as a hit against Abbott on behalf of her old boss.

    That’s where you can laugh at my cluelessness; because what I didn’t know was that Savva’s husband is a Turnbull staffer – which only makes the motivations even clearer. Whatever the truth or insight of her book, I don’t see how anybody can take this stuff seriously knowing how close she is to Abbott’s adversary, at a time when that adversary apparently needs friends in his own party and broader support outside it.

    It’s not dissimilar to the recent situation where Greg Sheridan has supposedly been leaked information about submarines from his university friend Abbott – another relationship I only just learnt about despite having read Sheridan’s columns for decades.

    Seriously – somebody needs to draw up a giant organizational chart that details all of the familial, business, social and intimate connections between every public figure in Australian politics, journalism, business, and the professions. That chart needs to be fully disclosed and accessible any time an article about politics is published or a television report is aired. Only then could any of us truly make sense of or contextualize what really goes on inside Australia’s corridors of power.

  6. It just underlines the idea that “We need more women in politics – so that the Sisterhood don’t run out of scratching poles”?

  7. Abbott government’s biggest failure – a media so locked onto the previous government’s message of ‘wrecker, socio-path, Mr. Negative, sexist’, that it was unable to let the government govern. It’s funny how, despite this so-called relentless negativity, Gillard’s government was able to get so much legislation passed. Seems that a bit of critical thinking is needed to be utilised by the press and the public, lest we end up like the Yanks…

    Abbots biggest failing – Not being ruthless enough to the party’s internal factions and break them entirely. Like when he ousted Turnbull, he should have made sure that Turnbull left the party. No olive branches. Instead he tried to keep the factional peace and kept him on. Less than 2 months into government and the leaking and white-anting began. Now we have PM Malcolm Turnbull and a government that’s achieved less in terms of breaking the economic impasse that its predecessor did. At least the media is still locked onto the ‘wrecker, socio-path, Mr. Negative, sexist’ message. The promotion of Savva’s book is just more smoke and mirrors to draw attention away from current, relevant issues. It’s neither here nor there what went on in the last PM’s office, when the current PM has failed to solve the problems that he claimed would be solved with his usurping of the throne.

  8. My favorite bit was the stuff about Peta buying matching luggage for herself and Tony and the bit about her feeding him at dinner.

  9. This is so spot on. I’m about halfway through the book and the number of times Credlin is described as “emotional” or “hysterical” (no, really), while Abbott is described as a good bloke or depicted as hen-pecked, is sick making. Savva even describes him as Australia’s “most community-minded PM ever,” oblivious to the fact that his government’s whole project was about attacking those things that bind communities in the first place (fairness, health, education etc.) Sava works really hard to ignore the fact the dynamic that existed between them wasn’t an example of “bitches be crazy” – Abbott’s whole MO was to have Credlin cut the toes while he sent blokey, jokey text messages. It had nothing to do with her personality or competence and everything to do with his lack of leadership.

  10. LETTER TO AUTHOR NIKI SAVVA:
    Dear madam.
    I am a non-English Speaking, but I have 5 books published in New York, I feel having enough the book written experience’s author. Mostly my books are non fiction, actually biography, all the document and information have to be true and hard evidence. Therefore your book meets the defamation to a former prime minister Tony Abbott and his advisory chief Mrs peta Redlin. I believe your book appears into period of the coup prime minister Malcolm Turnbull being faced the opinion slump and losen the donkey voters, mostly the Liberals supporters. Moreover, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has not new idea, indeed he follows the Tony Abbott foot steps. Nevertheless, Mr, Turnbull gets lost the monarchy, he wants to tranform country to Republic and the same Sex marriage that raises more concern of Liberals.
    Your book doesn’t reflect the truth, but it drives the readers into the turmoil and controversy. I believe an author who writes a book, but it is not true, obviously author and book to be dumped by reader, if the defamation is serious, author will be faced the legal action as Corby’s family won the case and publisher paid a million dollars to victim.
    Your book could help incumbent prime minister prevents the coming back of the desposed prime minister Tony Abbott who is victim of political betrayal….but it could become a Boomerang coming back and harm the thrower…

  11. Why is it that every time a sister is defamed by her own actions that we pedal out the sexism card just to brow beat all men as misogynists? Its no better than when the shoe is on the other foot and we smirk with disingenuine pleasure. Helen we are not going to gain any further representation by crying every single time a female causes her own demise. Credlin is her own enemy not men as a population.

  12. Helen,
    Thank you for your perceptive insight on the underlying dynamics when you identify the ‘the persistent fear that women are powerfully filthy inside’ that pervades our society. The focus on Peta Credlin as ‘the demon’ takes us back to the Adam and Eve story, the start of the belief that women are essentially evil, not the nurturing compassionate beings that we actually are.

    Robin

    1. I would’ve thought that “nurturing compassionate beings that we actually are” is as much a gender-essentialist stereotyping as the Adam-and-Eve stuff.

  13. Helen,

    With respect I think the fact that almost no women who worked with Credlin either in her staff or as MPs in this LNP government will lend credence to the idea the level of dislike she has received has been due to her gender speaks volumes.

    What happened with Gillard was undoubtedly tinged with sexism at the very least. The painting of her as a witch, and constant focus on things like her hair-dresser partner etc were ludicrous and detracted from the fact she achieved a great deal of things during her time in government in spite of a genuinely feral opposition led by Tony Abbott.

    However, the nature of the criticisms leveled at Credlin more often speak to the way she treated those around her, and as Michelle Gratton has point out actually echo the intense level of hatred Kevin Rudd earned from his staff and colleagues during his tenure.

    Rudd treated his staff with disdain, dumping abuse on them and assuming no one was capable of doing anything useful but himself. The EXACT SAME things have now come out about Credlin, who claims an inordinate amount of credit for the Abbott era’s “successes” and is detailed in Savva’s book as being a relentless bully who brought her staff to tears on numerous occasions.

    Maybe, just maybe, she’s just a female example of Rudd’s self-centred control obsessive personality that offers no respect for others and is only capable of projecting their own an inflated sense of importance.

  14. Yes, Credlin is a woman and Tony a man, and we seem to have reached a point where anything involving criticism of women in power amounts to an assault on womankind. Yes, due to Credlin being a woman, there are some basic interpretational dynamics that are in play, that wouldn’t be in play if Abbotts Chief of staff was a man. Unfortunately, that is just life. This aside, the book would still have been written if the Chief of staff was a man and behaved as Credlin behaved. In fact, as stated above, if this said male aid had fixed his hair, fed him food, and gone on skiing holidays with him it may have been of even more note.

    The bottom line is we have the freakish, bizzare and extraordinary story of an elected man in power, completely not competent for the job, being utterly dependent on a meglamaniacal unelected chief of staff whose range of control extends from the furnishing’s in lodge to crucial government policy.

    Yes, Savva’s doesnt reflect on the implications for a party that allows this comical duo to rise to the top and dominate the country. That would be expecting too much of a conservative political operative who writes for Murdoch. It isn’t that kind of book. Rather, the Savvas chronicles the shenanigans of the two protagonists, as seen through the eyes of those who had to work with them. There’s a place for this.

  15. Well Cherie, when this government is voted out, (fingers crossed) I’m pretty sure you’ll get your wish.
    The last time I checked, though, the WHOLE government is still in power ( minus Abbott). It hasn’t “failed” yet. Bloody awful, I agree. But not yet failed.
    Savvas book is about Abbotts failure, and Credlins part in that. Seems fair enough.
    I find it hard to fathom the truly terrible decisions made by Abbott. Who was advising him?

  16. What a rubbish accusation re Savva and description of our PM. The fact is that no CEO and Exec Officer would touch each other or wink, fiddle with hair, adjust his tie, stay at her home etc and not risk sending signals that the relationship was more than professional whatever the reality. Both are culpable and irresponsible in regard to their interactions. Helen don’t distract from the appalling behavior of these two in public

  17. I agree with Helen. Credlin was only part of the failure of the Abbott government and Savva’s book places most emphasis on their toxic relationship for whatever reasons. Savva, being a conservative supporter, doesn’t survey the whole of the government because she can’t blame its ideology and direction, she probably agrees with it. This takes the emphasis off the bad government, the bad policies, and the bad performance of the members almost giving them a free pass and the Murdoch press a good reason to justify their antipathy to the Abbott government while still agreeing with what they were trying to achieve in changing the direction of Australian society. And because it is rather salacious it will probably be the most read book based on Abbott’s government.

    I’m looking forward to a book written about the failure of the whole government.

  18. Its all about power tending to go to the head – and that knows no gender. A couple of flawed individuals who were both not up to the job of managing people and running a coherent policy.

  19. I’ve not read your writing previously and found my way to this through Twitter. I don’t think I’ll bother next time.

    I realize that you specifically say you haven’t read the book and in your comments you point out that this isn’t a book review. However no matter how you couch your context what you have written is a critique of both the content and the author. Until you read the book I can’t see how you can consider such a critique as credible (I have the same criticism of many of the commentators on this book). You would appear to be part of a broader problem where people are happy to post their opinions on the internet without doing their research – all in the name of getting there first or having the most likes. In my opinion we would be better off if we had fewer opinions and more facts in all the online discussions. Whilst I am interested in the opinions of others since they tend to highlight the flaws in my own opinions what I’m really looking for is facts and informed comments – it was clear to me that you offered up too much of either.

    1. Hello OldGrump,I have never replied to any comment on any website ,But.What you said is exactly what i feel but could not put into words.

      Quote” Whilst I am interested in the opinions of others since they tend to highlight the flaws in my own opinions what I’m really looking for is facts and informed comments ”

      Congratulations on the most intelligent comment i have read in all my years of reading social media commentary.Well Done Brilliant.Thankyou very much……

  20. I am astonished that Razer can keep a straight face and present us with this piece while admitting she hasn’t read the bloody book. All the spin about it not being a ‘book review’ is just that, spin. The fact the writer has written a critical piece about the book without having read it – well, it makes Razer a bit of a joke.

    1. On the day that this was published, dozens of pieces were published opining on the book by people who had not read it. I guess my “mistake” was disclosing this fact.
      Piss off back to News Corp, mate.

  21. So many people say Credlin is pretty much what Helen can’t believe she is. I’m OK with that. Fopr my part I think Mark Latham is a calm reasonable chap, and I won’t accept this character that the media presents me. It’s just not possible.

  22. Thanks Helen,
    Aerosmith hair made me laugh and think the maybe Colleridge was on to something.
    ‘Her smoky eyes, her Aerosmith hair
    Weave a circle round him thrice,
    And close your eyes with holy dread,
    For he on honey-dew (or onions) hath fed,
    And drunk the milk of Paradise’
    Spooky stuff.
    Thanks again,
    Matthew.

    1. Aerosmith-“Love in an elevator, livin’ it up while we’re goin’ down!”
      Love that song (love in an elevator by Aerosmith) even more now!

  23. Do not underestimate the toxic effect on an organisation of a relationship such as that of Abbott and Credlin. In a situation where the “boss” really doesn’t have the wherewithal to lead in his own right and so passes large slabs of power to a female “assistant”, the effect on the other people in the organisation is stultifying. I have worked for two different small family businesses where just such a duopoly existed. It is a complex and frustrating experience to say the least. The real power is wielded by the female assistant, but always in the name of the boss. The boss is generally a weak individual and easily manipulated by the real power holder. I’m afraid, Ms Razer, that if you can’t see just such a power structure in the pairing of Abbott and Credlin you are blind. It has nothing at all to do with women being filthy on the inside and everything to do with some of them being cunning and conniving and power hungry but with no chance of getting to the top on their own. So they manipulate a weak man. Simple really.

    1. Try getting past the personal assistant if you want to communicate via telephone-I was called a very rude man for not divulging the reason for my call. I merely said that I will discuss that with them: I think Queen Bee was the title formerly bestowed upon such individuals.

  24. I think no less a figure than Julia Gillard can be raised here: ‘it wasn’t all about sexism; it wasn’t NOT about sexism.’

    If Abbott had been a reasonable competent pm surrounded by reasonably competent advisors who at the end of a long stint had fallen under he thrall of a powerful female adviser would the underlying theme be the same?

    It seems to me the incompetent advice he was getting is just as big a part of the story. Cred kin may have been powerful, she may have been formidable but it’s clear neither of them could organise a root in a brother with a fistful of fifties.

    Why isn’t that part of the story?

  25. Savva had it in for Abbott for much of his reign. Apparently, according to Savva, Abbott and Credlin tried to get her sacked from The Australian on a few occasions. This is payback. Savva is backing Turnbull. If you watch old excerpts of ‘Insiders’ on the ABC you will see Savva’s history of the knife going into Tony. All this juiciness sells books. Credlin was no doubt a powerhouse and many of the frontbench and backbench have relished adding their little bit of sniping to Savva’s book. And suddenly all is explainable with the puppet master (Credlin) pulling the strings- you think?? Abbott lead a dysfunctional, divided team and evil reigns when good ‘men’ remain silent. Credlin just fitted in nicely. I will wait to read the book when I can buy it second hand and my money is not going to another embittered yet willing participant in all this- Savva.

    1. Interesting times.
      Certainly taken the heat off Turnbull a bit with the Abbott leaks from last week about the submarines. Tit for Tat, I’d say.

      What a farce.

      Good article HR.

    2. Credlin (a public servant) tried to get Savva (a writer at the Australian) sacked on a few occasions. No, out of control, power trip going on there, then.

      A question: When it became clear that the party was demanding either she go, or Abbott go, ( This was made very clear to the both of them) why did she not resign? For the sake of Abbott if nothing else. Sidodinos would have. Graham Morris did! She is on record as saying Abbott couldn’t work without her. Yet the party made clear he wouldn’t be working with her. If Abbott was indeed taking her advice, she was shit at her job. If he wasn’t, why was she there?

      Whether this is unfair or sexist is not the point (politics is rarely fair. They both knew this). The point is why Abbott threw his life’s work away for a political assistant?

      Perhaps we read him all wrong.

      Perhaps he was prepared to lose EVERYTHING, simply to prove to his sexist colleagues that strong women in positions of power deserve total respect and he was prepared to throw away his position as Prime Minister of the country, to prove this point.
      Abbot: the first truly male feminist martre of the 21st century. Hmm.

      Or perhaps they were simply in love with each other, and this blinded them to the oncoming train.

      Of course, none of this matters. As we all agree, Nikki Savva is a simply an angry frightbat out for revenge. Bitches be bitches, eh?

  26. Savva’s book is not an attack on Womankind.
    It’s carefully researched. If the chief of staff were a man whose ego-maniacal actions and intense connection with the PM led to widespread malcontent among Liberals, this person would still be held up to scrutiny and written about, and justifiably so.
    Credlin alienated umpteen people in Government. That’s book-worthy.
    This does seem to be an attack on Savva the journalist, and hey, she’s a female too, so one might just as well argue that in denigrating this respected senior female journalist, you’re doing nothing for the cause of women.

  27. Like everybody else, I think you’ve missed the essential point here: Tony Abbott desperately wanted (and probably still wants) to be Action Man, running, surfing, riding bikes, fighting fires etc. (perhaps just like that Russian bloke he wanted to shirtfront but forgot to). That was OK for Opposition Leader, but as PM, one needs to be up to speed with current affairs, keep one’s mind in gear and do lots of reading, digesting and absorbing of documents. There’s only so many hours in one’s day, after all. So Credlin diligently does Tony’s homework for him, and instantly becomes indispensable — in effect, she’s the de facto PM/puppeteer, while Tony becomes the ventriloquist’s doll. How could she possibly respect such a fellow? No wonder she repeatedly cursed him, especially when he stuffed things up. Of course they were not bonking, but who’d care anyway? While it might have appeared to be a mother-son relationship, an Oedipal thing a la Freud, I for one can’t imagine it.

    1. Someone who knew the young Abbott once opined that he would’ve bonked a hole in the wall if it had hair around it,(I can relate to that, but too much information already perhaps!) so never say never when discussing rumpy -pumpy:but you’re right, who cares anyway now that they’re both in the dustbin of history.I reckon you’re spot on (and brilliant) with your assessement of Action Man having someone else do his homework for him-probably seemed like a great idea at the time!

  28. You come across as a bit paranoid actually. Credlin led with her chin and got belted the
    same as Abbott did: both now consigned to the dustbin of history and good riddance. Abbott stuck it to Gillard big time and now Karma has come around to Abbott Credlin big time, but you seem to be portraying Credlin as unfairly victimised!

  29. I cannot see Savva’s book as being an unfair attack on women.

    Should there be a book on the dysfunction of the Brandis, Andrews, Bishop, Hockey (etc) ministries? Absolutely.

    Is there more to say on the history of Abbott in government? Well, he ain’t gone yet so the answer will be yes.

    Abbott was the Prime Minister and Credlin should have been a public service functionary. That she became more than that is the story and that is Savva’s story. Apart from the unpleasant image that it conjures up, I don’t care at all whether there was an affair of the body between them. That is not my business (no matter how hypocritical I may think it is).

    But the affair of the mind and what that lead to is what Ms Savva explores in her book. The rumour of an intimate relationship was around for years. If that was wrong, years ago was the time to slap it down. They did not. Bad choice on that and on so many fronts.

    1. I agree with most of what you say, Michael. However… To say, as many have, that the ‘aledged’ affair is none of your (our) business seems odd to me. We’re not talking about Mr Green and Mrs blue next door, here.

      If decisions about this country are being affected or warped BECAUSE of some psycho/sexual relationship between an oaf PM and a power mad advisor, I think it’s fair game. The heart wants what the heart wants, true.

      But if you stand on a podium with wife and kids as props, extolling family values (unlike the barren Gillard and her hairdresser husband) you can’t complain when it’s shown to be an empty lie.

      1. I sympathise with your point of view, Ross.

        However, we do not know that this is true – it is only alleged however much people may want it to be so. But there is so much more to see that points out the hypocrisy of the man.

        I am not disputing that a voyage through the minds of Abbott and Credlin would be startling for any number of reasons. But if we start climbing into bed with other people – however much we approve or disapprove of them – the argument becomes about prurience rather than the key issues of why they failed themselves, their party, their country. It is a distraction.

        1. Good point Michael.
          But try and figure out why Fearless Leader, even when warned, even threatened, chose to stick with a flunky and thereby destroy his life’s work?
          Any ideas?

          Look, I don’t want to ‘jump in to bed ‘ with them either. If Abbott was having casual sex with a waitress, call girl, or rent boy, I’d agree. It would be between he and his god ( and family) I guess.
          But when it has the power to actually effect the way the country is run, well…sorry, I still think it’s fair game.
          It’s a grey area, I’ll grant you.
          I’m not saying your wrong.
          We’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  30. Helen,

    Well, read the book then and come back with a considered analysis. You seem to have fallen into the same trap as most of the commentariat and random commenters you are aiming to critique: bouncing around off the comments and reactions like a clunky arcade game.

    The sexual affair aspect is minor really. Savva’s book is centrally about bullying (yes women can bully too) and a fundamental subversion of our shaky but still functioning representative democracy.

    And after reading “Road to Ruin” read, as a form of cross-reference, “Credlin and Co: How the Abbott Government Destroyed Itself” by deputy editor of the AFR, Aaron Patrick. Yes, not so well marketed or backed by News Corp but covering much the same ground including perceptions of a sexual affair plus some other crucial policy and political aspects. Note, by implication in the title, Patrick lays the blame squarely upon Abbott. So do I.

    I look forward to hearing your thoughts about and analysis of the WHOLE not just nibbling the edges.

  31. Hi Helen,

    I know you went to great pains to say that this was not a book review and that you have based this on Niki’s words and the snippets provided. And I also note that those sort of things (as you’ve noted) are there to be salacious AND get people to buy the book. (In this case it worked – $15 online, which is a bit of a bargain but anyway).

    So I’ve read about half the book. And your analysis, that Savva is whitewashing (do we need a verb du jour now – liberal washing perhaps?) the legacy and blaming the relationship is actually quite compelling. Because the relationship is front and centre of the book but very much cast in the ‘man becomes blindly and irrationally attached to female’ story.

    Savva clearly has no time for Credlin – Credlin is cast in the most unfavourable light and as I read, the blowtorch is not quite yet focussed on Abbott (so far he’s a ‘nice guy’ and ‘hardworking’ and a ‘larrakin’). Credlin is ‘Lady McBeth’ and repeatedly, ‘Wallis Simpson’. And interestingly, the most unpopular policy decisions, the broken promises, the commission of audit (remember that?) – are all laid at the feet of Credlin, who is cast as the power hungry and manipulative female who uses her thrall over Abbott to attempt to implement ideological policy, to the horror of the rest of the Liberal Party (they were all seemingly unwilling participants in the 2014 budget which was devised by Peta, if my reading is correct). The fact that Savva actually interviews previous PM Chiefs of Staff for perspective on the role is actually very interesting (both sides of politics) but then seems like a lost opportunity as its used to then stick the boot into Credlin again.

    I think unfortunately, Savva has missed a chance to analyse the dysfunction of the relationship outside of the ‘are they / aren’t they’ trope. She has access to primary source material that provides so many other fascinating insights into just how utterly bizarre a world the relationship, and those offices must have been. And if any of it is true, how WorkSafe need to investigate some serious allegations of bullying and harassment.

    In short, I think your argument has legs. I can’t help but read the book through your lens at the moment, which is probably making it a little more interesting than it would otherwise be. Thanks!

    1. Hi, Jimmy and thanks for your as-it-happens book review!
      I really don’t think it was unethical or ill-informed to write a piece based on massive public reaction. As Savva herself reminds us, it’s all about the perception, right, and the perception here, absolutely courted by the author herself and many at News Corp, is that Credlin is largely to blame.
      So, I think it was okay to write that this was what press had derived from the work, that this was the public conversation.
      But, I would have to say that I thought there was a fair chance that this journalist, whom I regard as more ideological than “savvy” as another commenter suggests, would do what conservatives do. That is: elevate the importance of the individual.
      It’s a neolliberal habit, this one, to believe that single persons move political history along. Of course, political figures do have influence but ultimately, it’s policy that has the greatest influence on the greatest number of people. And a champion of the Coalition is unlikely to critique policy.
      This week, I see Abbott is managing to make a mess without the help of Peta. I wonder if Savva will find another lady to blame for the fact that he’s stirred a backbench revolt.

      1. How do you know he made a mess WITHOUT Petas help, Helen? Is he no longer communicating with her? Do you have a source willing to put their name to it? Like Savva does in her book?

        1. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think a former COS hangs about to give a backbencher advice on blocking tax reform.

      2. The only thing savvy about Savva is her marketing to get this book to fly off the shelves. I think you were totes legit (as the kids say) to write about the rewriting of policy history in this book. The policies blamed on Credlin are still there. We just have a smoother salesman. Should it all go tits up Im sure Julie Bishop will end up getting the blame as ScoMo moves into the role of beloved leader.

        Also I get the impression a few commentators here missed the subtleties of ‘this is not a book review’. I find finger puppets and large diagrams help and a glass of gin help in these circumstances. Kee up the good work.

    2. I always wondered whether Tony Abbott was coming mainly from his Jesuit background in which he had passed the critical age, so should have been captured or whether he truly embraced the Neo Liberals philosophy, to which he seemed to sometimes lean, – was Credlin’s job to be his Ayn Rand? or the opposite?
      I always liked this catholic order joke about Jesuits, I felt it summed up our Tony, although of course nothing is quite that simple.

      20) Sharks:

      When their ship sank a Benedictine, a Dominican, a Franciscan, and a Jesuit were crowded into a small lifeboat. It had a small leak and was in ever greater danger of sinking. Unfortunately, the boat was also surrounded by sharks.

      So the Dominican, confident in the preaching prowess of his order, stood on the prow and begin to preach to the sharks about Christian charity and the virtues of vegetarianism; but his sermon was cut short by a leaping shark who consumed him in one gulp.

      Then the Benedictine stood on the prow and began to charm the sharks with a stupendous rendition of the Exsultet, but just when he got to the part about the mother bee (mater apis) another shark dispatched him with a single gulp.

      Shortly thereafter the Franciscan, climbing onto the prow, began to pray, “Blessed are you, Lord my God, for brother shark,…” when one of the sister sharks cut him off in mid-benediction.

      Soon the lifeboat sank, leaving the Jesuit in the water with the sharks. But instead of eating him, several sharks towed him to shore and cast him up on the dry land. Stunned, he turned to ask them why they had not devoured him. They replied, “Professional courtesy!”

  32. I agree with Judith. At what point did public policy concern & personal interest intersect. Power creates abuse of power. If a person has been given the mantra of Head Honcho & allows to be driven by third party concerns, they do not deserve that power. I never was nor will be a fan of Tony Abbot but he absolutely lost me when he gave away the said Sir title hood to some insignificant guy on the other side of the planet.

  33. Exactly, its not a review, and so it becomes a faux-feminist rant. Nicki Savva is one of the shrewdest journalists in the country; and if she focusses on the relationship it is important. Abbot had been all over the place as opposition leader and he suddenly got focus and discipline, and anyone who provided that was a competent advisor. But a competent advisor is one thing, someone who doesn’t understand the role, who gets control and who subverts the administrative system, man or woman, that’s quite another. No-one minds (except perhaps the very conservatives) who has an affair with whom, we’ve had at least one leader who had a close gay advisor; but it is giving up control to that advisor and that advisor abusing that control that attracts comment.

    1. Hi Jason,
      Thanks for your comment. No, this is not a review of the book. As Helen states in her second sentence: “In an understanding based on published excerpts and recently broadcast opinions of its author…”
      Cheers,
      Ray Gill

      1. Hi Raymond

        Thanks for your comment.

        What’s clear from this thread is that Razer needed to read the book to have any credibility on the matter. (I have not read Razer’s article but my understanding is based on published excerpts by other commenters in social media and recently published opinions by others on this thread.)

        cheers

        Kim

    2. Hi Jason.
      No, this is not a book review. It’s a comment on the interest surrounding the book and the way in which Savva has chosen to market it.
      The book has received a great deal of publicity because of the claims, which Savva parenthetically reminds us are unsubstantiated, that Abbott and Credlin had an affair.
      It *may* turn out that a book which features the pair on the cover, and a quote that assures the reader that they were unable to govern together, and one that has moments like the alleged restaurant incident fed to media is about something more than Credlin’s wiles and Abbott’s weakness.
      This is not the point. The point is that there has been (a) an orgy of sexism in Australian public life in recent days, absolutely fuelled by an author eager to shift books and (b) repeated claims that Credlin was Abbott’s greatest problem. I’d say that this bloke had more substantial issues.

      1. It’s called the “peter principle” any person that says to another in a time of grief.”Your father died of shame” gives insight into the personality of the erstwhile p.m. Credlan tried to make a silk socio-path from a sour socio-path

      2. “I’d say this bloke had more substantial issues.”
        Jesus Helen, His party told him directly: either she goes or you go.
        Trust me, for a Prime Minister of Australia, that’s a pretty substantial issue to deal with. Sexist or not.
        So why did he ignore them? What could possibly the reason?
        He sacrificed EVERYTHING he’d worked for, all his life…for Peta! Why???
        This is the very essence of his fall. Worth exploring, don’t you think?
        Maybe you should write one of them book things, Helen and find out the REAL reasons for this bizarre moment in our political history.

      3. This may sound like hackneyed whinging, but let’s not be too naive about the pivotal driving force of News Corp in this stupid kerfuffle. I agree, its nothing but a worthless, confected story, lacking any hard (or juicy) evidence to justify its newsworthiness.
        NewsCo are well practised at distracting the attention of the ignorant masses away from real issues that may reflect badly on the LNP. Like what an irrepressibly embarrassing fuckwit Tony Abbott is proving to be and what a Bad fucking call they made to rally support for him to become the PM of Australia in 2013.
        “Low quality deceptive trash selectively released to sensationalise piffle and maintain a constant Liberal bias” should be the logo of NewsCor. Could be shorter too.

  34. Having read your article Helen I would hope you read the Savva book. What you have written is soley based on the commentary of others and you acknowledge this in your writing. I believe it serves no one’s best interest to continue with an opinion piece based soley on your perceptions of others response to Savva book. Perhaps you will now read her book and then add to your commentary.

    What you have done is not dissimilar to writing a review of a movie you have not seen. Basing your perspective on the critical opinion of others. I have no objection to your freedom to comment in whatever way you choose. However, I would say I think it more appropriate to read Savva’s book before you publicly comment.

    I have not read the book myself. I have read your article and those of others on this topic but reserve my judgement until I have gathered as much information as I can before I comment. I would hope that once you have read the book your opinion piece would carry more weight.

    People in glass houses, should not throw stones. Look at the log in your eye before you point to the speck in anothers. Let those who are without sin throw the first stone.

    I accept that you have every right to publish from your perspective and should continue to do so.

    1. Hi Robyn. This is not a book review. It’s a look at the intense and profoundly sexist interest in the proposition that Credlin was Abbott’s greatest problem.
      I am not throwing stones. There is, to my knowledge, no plank in my eye,

      1. How is it “profoundly sexist”? Arent we allowed to state her gender.?..Are you viewing it through a straightjacket of ideology.? .

      2. The proposition is, in fact, that Abbott was Abbott’s greatest problem. Regardless of what Credlin did or didn’t do, it’s apparent that Abbott ignored the advice of many people and allowed the functioning of his office to be completely hamstrung by his continued failure to act.

      3. Amazing- Abbott needed Credlin to stay so disciplined & she has taken credit for his win- remember the ‘ditch the witch’ slogan, his negativity towards women, the relentless sloganeering. Why does Credlin deserve support from feminists when she, based on her own claims, must have fostered his anti-women approach

    2. As a side note, how much do dumbed down religious quotes suck? I mean, the King James is a shoddy translation of questionable transliterations of undoubtably dodgy documentations of almost certainly apocryphal oral histories and mythologies, but at least it has a certain gravitas and a sense of style. For starters, compare the dry and boring log and speck of Robyn’s attempt at a salutary message to the motes and beams of the ‘original’. Sure, they technically mean the same thing, but no one uses ‘motes’ or ‘beams’ in that context anymore, so it sounds more meaningful by dint of everyone’s favourite logical fallacy, argumentum ad antiquitatem. Plus, there’s so much more poetry to the King James version versus more modern ‘The Bible the way Jesus would have spoke it’ bowdlerisations. Compare:

      ‘3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
      4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
      5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.’

      or

      ‘Look at the log in your eye before you point to the speck in anothers [sic].’

      Point is, if you’re going to use religious aphorisms to attack someone’s argument, for Christ’s sake, do it with style ;-)

      (Sorry if I’m hijacking discussion of your article, Helen. I’m tired and grumpy and I’ve had a rotten cold for nearly three weeks. Feel free not to approve if you think it’s off-topic or not appropriate)

  35. Tony was not capable of public office and needed someone to look after him. Someone to train him to remember those four key points every day, someone to guard the door against confusing policy ideas, someone to tell him every day that he could do it. She may or may not be a horrible person, but she did an incredible job to keep that poor bugger, maybe a bit punchdrunk from his boxing days, propped up and pretending to be a PM for as long as she did. She gave him some bad advice at times, but she tried hard and he knew just how much he owed her. Niki’s account is too angry about what a mess her beloved Liberal party has become under Tony to see that it’s also a minor tragedy.

  36. If Peta had been Peter would this have been blaming men? No of course not. This article is not worth anything. Savva’s book descibes a fascinating relationship that crippled a government. If you think this is a total blame of Credlin then you miss the point. They were a toxic team and Abbott’s complete bedazzlement at the expense of everyone else’s advice is what this story us about.

    1. I agree, even Abbott would have performed better (but still poorly as he’s so flawed) if he had a chief of staff like Sinodinis.

    2. If a male head of the PMO had essentially single-handedly wrecked a first-term govt elected to restore sanity after the high farce of Rudd-Gillard-Rudd, by micromanaging and controlling a PM with pretty much no capacity to lead, then, feck – of course the book would have been written. It’s just that no one would read it, unless there was some suggestion that said male head was giving head to Tony in the back of a Comcar. It’s pretty transparent that Savva is trying to provide an excuse for the failed adventures of the lunar Right – but in this case she may just be right. Although Hockey’s disastrous 2014 budget was a key part in the Libs pissing away most of the goodwill a first-term govt can use to push through difficult but necessary reform. Now the Libs are paralysed – all sensible tax reform targets their own base – even though Labour are (strangely) giving them the chance for bipartisanship.

    3. I agree Stephanie – I am only at about Chapter 4 but so far my analysis is that while it is clear Savva has her own agenda, what she is demonstrating is that while Abbott was an excellent opposition leader he was incapable of being the Prime Minister for many reasons and so became extraordinary dependent on Credlin and because of the failings of both, the whole Government went to hell in a hand basket. I hold myself to be a staunch feminist and I don’t see this as an attack on a strong woman and a man wouldn’t be subjected to such an attack. The fact is Credlin was his CoS and between them they hurtled along the road to ruin. I think if he had a different CoS regardless of gender will the skills, knowledge, expertise and lack of megalomania, the incompetent sod may well have been able to muddle through.

      1. “…Abbott was an excellent opposition leader…”
        Absolute hogwash! He was an obstructionist who held this nation – socially and economically – to ransom. He lied and misrepresented EVERYTHING! What made it even worse was the complicity of the media. The Blue Book of policies was a sham – but where was the interrogation of its substance. An opposition leader needs to hold government to account – and to come up with suggestions themselves for improving our society. Abbott did none of this. I would love an economist to tally up how much he cost Australia during his term as ‘leader’ of opposition or government with his negativity and self-absorption.

  37. Ms Razer has a great written voice (IMO). HST good, better than Taibbi and she raises an important point. The Siren (kegal flex an’ all) calling our hero to his miserable end, as if this mad destroyer would not have smashed himself against the rocks anyway.

    Savva’s antipathy for Credlin seemingly has its origin in Credlin’s own dislike for Savva
    and from that point it was ‘on’. They both seem merciless, vengeful and unforgiving women – and since Freud has been raised – Niki may have seen herself in Peta’s mirror and hence been set on Credlin’s annihilation.

    What makes it all so uncomfortably suspect is the tidy fit with the Newscorp agenda, to take Tony up the back paddock and put one in the back of his troublesome noggin, and get back to business.

  38. Come on Helen, this is not a feminist issue and I am not sure whether Savvas solely lays blame at Credlin. It is a series of circumstances that lead to a PM’s downfall. It is about their combined behaviour and the internal ructions (dictator management) and external problems (polls) it was causing.

    Almost all accounts of Tony Abbott’s reign mention his relationship with Credlin as being a major issue. This book simply outlines more detail as to what some of that dynamic was like.

    1. I understand your point. In many cases, reaction by commentators about the apprehension of women only as women and not as garden variety wrongdoers is insane. See Gillard http://www.crikey.com.au/2013/06/28/razer-gillards-knifing-had-nothing-to-do-with-the-patriarchy/
      In this case, though, there’s more at work.
      Abbott’s failure is a very complex one. It has at least as much to do with his attachment to his attachment to the cultural right within his own party and his allegiances to Catholicism as it does to Credlin. But, it’s not in the political interest of the author to write a book about, say, a trifling thing like a re-energised ultra-right so much as it is to say that Credlin was a magical influence who somehow turned this tough ideologue with decades of form into man putty.
      I was careful to say that I don’t really give much of a hoot about the personal stuff about Credlin. It’s unpleasant and it’s moralising, yes. But that’s not my problem.
      My problem is. Of ALL the things wrong with that government (Abetz, Bernardi just for starters) a seasoned journalist chooses to focus on a winning woman.
      For mine, this is a way for a conservative journalist to make a conservative argument. It wasn’t Abbott’s attachment to ideology and to other ideologues who brought him down. It was his fascination for a seductress.
      Poor form. And not just because it was sexist.

      1. While it’s clear where Savva’s political sympathies lie, there is also a lot in the book about Abbott’s abject failure to listen to anybody from backbenchers to cabinet ministers and party elders, who did, at times, try to articulate the electorate’s growing dissatisfaction with and rejection of the extreme neoliberal policies he was prosecuting on the back of a slew of broken promises.

        And even those who agreed with his neoliberal agenda, couldn’t prevail upon him to get basic political manoeuvres right.

        The bubble in which Abbott and Credlin operated was central to all of this. And while the book does chronicle some fairly extraordinary workplace bullying on her part, it also implies fairly deep insecurities on his – much more so than fascination for a seductress, imo.

        Credlin’s micromanagement also prevented a lot of quotidian government business from rolling forward.

        For all these reasons, I think the book’s attempt to understand Abbott and Credlin’s relationship, and their relationships with others, is valid.

        Aside from the pure raw salaciousness of it all, I see this book as more of a reflection on age and work-related stress, than gender. But that’s another story..

      2. I agree, Helen, particularly with regard to the ‘re-energised ultra-right’. In fact, I’m almost suspicious of the timing. By setting Credlin (and, by extension, her ‘puppet’) up as the patsy, it helps to pull a three-card monte trick on a forgetful public. This is still very much the government of Abetz, Morrison, Andrews, Bernadi, et al–or, more accurately, the government of their backers–but by shifting the blame for the first two disastrous years of their term completely onto Credlin and Abbott, they gain themselves two rays of hope.

        First, that people might believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that the LNP machine can be controlled by a visionary individual, but perhaps Tony wasn’t the right individual (and, in fact, was about as visionary as a rabid pit bull with a raging meth habit. Sure, he probably had visions, but most of them revolved around tearing the throats out of asylum seeking children whilst dry-humping Santamaria’s gravestone. Actually, scratch the asylum seeker kiddie bit there. They still want people to believe that torturing children is a valid solution to a non-existent problem).

        Second, that people might believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that the LNP machine can be controlled by a visionary individual, and that Malcolm is that individual (despite being, behind the silken smiles and empty promises, about as visionary as a private school boy who’s just been persuaded to try acid for the first time, and will spend the next eight hours tripping balls that this might affect his application to join the local branch of the Young Libs if anyone gets a photo of him with his hair not styled and his tie undone).

      3. Abbott’s failures may have been complex and Savva’s interpretation may be biased or suspect; but I doubt anybody would argue that Credlin was a huge factor in Abbott’s election win. The central point is I think that there is a very different set of management skills needed for opposition than for government. Credlin’s problem was that she didn’t seem to realize there WAS a difference.

      4. You Know for me, you said more in your reply than I found reading the content. Who gives a shit about the dynamics of the relationship. People as humans do have encounters albeit starting with work but I just want the mundane policy. I don’t care if Peta was a woman or a man. I don’t give a shit if they hand fed each other. Just give me decent leadership & policy. I mean the guy gave Prince Phillip a Knighthood which is a real insight into how he operated.

Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

Newsletter Signup