Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Peta Credlin powerful, opinionated and protective: Julie Bishop

Abbott can't win. Either he's a misogynist (according to the unhinged Gillard) or women have too much influence over him. His chief of staff, the gorgeous Peta (above), is a woman and so is his deputy, the impeccable Julie Bishop. But nothing will satisfy the Sydney Morning Herald of course

Peta Credlin is powerful, opinionated and "very protective of the Prime Minister", says deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop.

In a thinly veiled warning to Mr Abbott a day after he survived an attempt to oust him from office, Ms Bishop said the Prime Minister must respond to backbench concerns about his office.

MPs and ministers have long complained that Ms Credlin is too controlling. Ms Credlin and Ms Bishop clashed last year after the Prime Minister's Office vetoed her attendance at a climate change summit.

Ms Bishop successfully sought cabinet permission to attend but was told she would be chaperoned to the event by Trade Minister Andrew Robb.

"Peta Credlin is a very powerful figure in the sense that she's strong, she has a lot of opinions and she is very protective of the Prime Minister," Ms Bishop told the ABC.

"She was an indispensable part of our team in opposition. Now, the Prime Minister is very close to Peta, she obviously provides him with good advice and they work together as a team."

Liberal MP Teresa Gambaro complained on Sunday of a culture of "fear and intimidation" within the government. Immediately after the ballot on Monday, MPs told Fairfax Media that without Ms Credlin's removal, Mr Abbott's internal standing would not improve.

Ms Bishop said Mr Abbott "must respond" to backbench concerns if they are valid but stressed the way the Prime Minister ran his office was a matter for him.

 "People have been very frank and very blunt in their assessment of the performance of the Prime Minister's Office and the Prime Minister is a smart man, he will take those issues into account," she said.

"His particular staffing arrangements are a matter for him ... I don't expect him to tell me what to do with the staff in my office."

Social Services Minister Scott Morrison echoed Ms Bishop's view in a short media conference at Parliament House on Tuesday. When asked if Ms Credlin should resign he did not endorse her position.

"That's a matter for Tony Abbott. I don't give him lectures on his staff and he doesn't give me lectures on mine," he told reporters.

A government "star chamber" is notorious for vetoing minister's preferred staffing choices. Backbenchers have also said there have been attempts to control who they employ in their electorate offices.

But when asked if he stood by his chief of staff after the failed spill motion, Mr Abbott said he and his staff had taken a "good, long, hard look at ourselves" and resolved to do better.

Ms Credlin is married to the Liberal Party's federal director, Brian Loughnane. MPs have privately and publicly complained this creates a climate where complaints about either the party's administrative wing or political arm can't be raised with either side.

Mr Abbott has been urged to resolve the situation but said on Monday that the arrangement had been in place for five years and had not hurt the government.

"It certainly didn't stop us from having a very good result in the 2010 election. It didn't stop us running a very strong opposition throughout the last term of the Parliament," he said.

"It didn't stop us getting a very good result in the 2013 election. Frankly, it didn't stop us doing a lot of good things last year, whether it be stopping the boats, repealing the carbon tax, getting the three free trade agreements negotiated.

"Now, I say to people that my door is open, I am available to people, and if they're anxious about talking to person X or anxious about talking to person Y, they can talk to me."


Perth mother charged with slapping four-year-old son in the face

When a person of any age is hysterical, slapping their face is a common way of calming them

A PERTH mother charged over slapping her four-year-old son in the face was taken away in tears from her home in a police van.

Police charged the woman with assault after a member of the public reported seeing the alleged incident at a shopping centre. The woman’s husband and father of the boy said it happened after the child went into a meltdown.

“She’s slapped my son to the side of the face, which is probably uncalled for, but it was done,” he told 6PR Radio on Monday. “He was rebelling a bit so she’s clipped him on the side of the face, not necessarily aiming for that.”

The man said officers stopped his wife in the car park to inspect their three children and later arrested her at the family home, taking her away in a police van.

He said there was no history of abuse against the children and their son was not injured.  “They were all bruise free, not a mark on them,” he said.  “But they were mortified at the fact that their mum was in trouble, who was also broken down in tears.”


Leadership spills are ho-hum - let's see some politicians who stick to their values

By David Leyonhjelm, Liberal Democrats Senator for NSW.

With a Prime Minister's job on the line, you might think that there was a buzz of excitement around Parliament House on Monday – a feeling that history was being made before our eyes. But you'd be wrong.

The mood at Aussies Cafe, where politicians, staffers and media queue up to buy their flat whites, was summed up by the phrase: here we go again.

Leadership spills are getting a bit ho-hum. For some years now we've seen images of Important People in Suits Doing Power Walks Down Corridors. Same pictures, same suits, same power walks, same corridors, same platitudes, same concerned looks - just different people.

This feeling of deja vu belies Mr Abbott's assertion that Liberals and Labor are cut from different cloth. In fact, both are hostage to backbenchers in marginal electorates protecting their jobs by defending big spending government programs. And indications are they will further come to resemble each other.

Mr Shorten has been delivering platitudes about spending our way to economic growth and budget recovery.  Like a drowning man seeking to pull himself up by his own hair, Mr Abbott seized on these platitudes with all his might in his Press Club address.  Expect to hear a whole lot more about how spending money on childcare and infrastructure will save us all.

Of course, Mr Abbott will try to distinguish himself by outdoing Labor on national security issues at the expense of our freedoms.  But Mr Shorten won't let Abbott get too far ahead in that race: he shares the lazy view that being tough on national security is a vote winner.

We also won't see as many clashes between Liberals and Labor in Parliament.  The government is looking for ways to avoid having decisions made in the Senate at all. For example, it is effectively abolishing the agency that reviews Freedom of Information applications by starving it of funds rather than by putting the bill to abolish it before the Senate.

And with Mr Abbott winning the spill by an unconvincing margin, leadership speculation will continue to be the order of the day, as it was in the Rudd-Gillard years.

This meant Monday's spill attempt was of little consequence to me.

Had Malcolm Turnbull won on Monday, it's unlikely the legislation coming before us in the Senate would have noticeably changed. I enjoy Malcolm's company and he is much more likely to support my Freedom to Marry Bill, but the conscience vote issue is likely to be considered by the Coalition party room in any case.

The bigger question is who will lead the Liberals into the next election.  The bookmakers are usually right about these things, and they say Malcolm Turnbull is most likely. Few of the Liberals I've spoken to would take the juicier odds on offer for Tony Abbott.

The only person winning from all this is Mr Shorten. It's entirely possible that thanks to the turmoil, he will win the next election. The bad news for Bill is that if the current mood in the electorate continues, opinion polls will start to bite him in the bum as well. It's just as likely he'll be toppled by another candidate who will then lead Labor to defeat in the next election.  More in the parade of one-term wonders!

Australia can only stand so many poor governments before it starts to bite us, too. Is there any alternative to this depressing probability?

Wouldn't it be refreshing for the Liberal leader to accept that he can't outspend Labor, and to concentrate on convincing the public of the need to fix the budget and economy regardless of the consequences for popularity and the next election?

Wouldn't it be refreshing for the Labor leader, whoever that may be, to plan for his next stint in government rather than pretend that the status quo is just fine?

Too many of our politicians don't really seem to believe or stick to anything. Julia Gillard was passionate about addressing climate change, until she wasn't. Tony Abbott was passionate about the Paid Parental Leave Scheme, until he wasn't.  If our leaders don't believe in anything much, then it stands to reason that there's nothing much to lose by changing them around, and much good theatre to be had in the process.

This could all stop if we had political leaders of all persuasions with values they believe in, who can articulate those values, and keep articulating them until they win, and then stick to them when they do.


Pink batts, day of reckoning for public servants

A group of senior public servants found to be at fault for their roles in the fatal home insulation scheme will learn their likely fates this month, the government's workplace authority has confirmed.

The Public Service Commission says it is close to finalising reports on the conduct of the officials at the departments of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and Environment in the run up to the ill-fated scheme, which cost the lives of four young workmen, in 2009.

The royal commission on the affair, which published its report in September 2014, was scathing about the conduct of senior bureaucrats and even some of their hired private sector consultants.

Commissioner Ian Hanger, SC,  found "the failings of senior management assured the failure of the project" and that senior bureaucrats may have breached the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct in their handling of the program.

Mr Hanger made adverse findings against 19 individuals, who were not all publicly named, but it was unclear which of the officials named by the royal commission are being examined by the Public Service Commission.

Mr Hanger found that senior officials failed to provide candid advice to ministers, that they lacked subject-matter expertise and did not to provide leadership of the program.

The royal commissioner left it in the hands of the Prime Minister to decide whether public servants should be disciplined.

The Public Service Commission told The Canberra Times this week that it had been working on a review of "roles and responsibilities" of some of the bureaucrats involved in the scheme and that it expected the review to be complete within weeks.

"Drawing on the findings of the Home Insulation Program Royal Commission, the Australian Public Service Commission is undertaking a statutory review of the roles and responsibilities of individual public servants during the Home Insulation Program, with regard to the governance and accountability arrangements at the time," a commission spokeswoman said.

"This review is expected to conclude within the next month."

Among those named in the royal commission were Environment Department assistant secretary Beth Brunoro and senior public servant Aaron Hughes, now Comcare general manager.

Two external contracters were also named – risk consultant Margaret Coaldrake and project adviser Janine Leake, who charged taxpayers more than $1800 a day for her work on the Home Insulation Program but who admitted she was unclear what her role was.

Senior government lawyer David Hoitink was criticised for offering the incorrect advice that states would be solely responsible for the safety of insulation installers.

The oral evidence and poor recollections of former senior Environment managers William Kimber, and Simon Cox, came in for attention from Mr Hanger and he also found  Environment Department senior public servants Kathy Belka and Kevin Keeffe failed to candidly brief their minister, Peter Garrett, on the dangers of insulation installation.


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