Rupert Murdoch Has Set Up A Stand-Off With Tony Abbott Over His Top Adviser

Prime minister Tony Abbott and his chief of staff Peta Credlin. Image: Screenshot.

Today News Corp boss Murdoch publicly called for Tony Abbott’s chief of staff, Peta Credlin, to resign. The ridicule heaped on Abbott over the knighthood for Prince Philip this week was the last straw, with Murdoch saying she should do her “patriotic duty” and quit.

The complaints about “Abbott’s office” – code for Credlin – in senior Liberal circles started in the middle of last year. “Abbott’s office” was too controlling. “Abbott’s office” thought about things too much.

Through the second half of the year the government consistently failed to get control of the agenda. It battled a growing perception that it was breaking election promises by raising taxes and cutting the ABC’s budget. It suffered the ignominy of having the Senate roll back its changes to the Future of Financial Advice reforms in November. Backbenchers watched the polls continue to turn against them, and the complaints about “Abbott’s office” grew.

The PM made some changes among his senior team late last year that showed he knew something had to give, although Credlin remained in her role.

(One footnote here is that Murdoch reportedly met with foreign minister Julie Bishop, who would be considered the front-runner to replace Abbott if the partyroom turned against him.)

But consider how Credlin’s resignation, or sacking, would appear now. This is the chief of staff to the Prime Minister of Australia. Does someone other than Abbott get to make a call on who is in the job?

If Credlin was to go, it would make both Abbott and his top adviser look weak and intimidated.

The politics of this are moving quickly but my guess – for what it’s worth – is that in the face of enormous pressure, Credlin now won’t be going anywhere.

There may well be a senior appointment at some point that sensibly splits some of Credlin’s responsibilities.

At the height of his powers, John Howard had his highly experienced and diplomatic chief of staff in Arthur Sinodinos, who ran the office, was his chief counsellor, and most importantly was an accessible point of contact for business leaders trying to navigate issues with the government. Sinodinos’ tact was backed by Howard’s formidable Principle Private Secretary, Tony Nutt, who was effectively his political enforcer. Howard also had a crack communications operation run by Tony O’Leary with David Luff, who is now heading corporate affairs for Rio Tinto, for the media streetfighting.

There may be some changes, and there are options for additions to the team, but Credlin will still be at Abbott’s side while he’s PM.