JAM: Peta Credlin deserves better than this.


Peta Credlin in 2013.






What’s that you hear? A buoyant defence of the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff? Outraged cries for bringing the personal into politics, for making a leader’s staff member the story, and for using someone’s gender against them in policy debate?

No. What you actually heard was silence.

A still and telling silence.

Queensland MP Clive Palmer has launched a legitimate attack on the Prime Minister’s paid parental leave (PPL)  scheme this week but has unfairly used Abbott’s Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin to do it.

When speaking about the Government’s proposed scheme, which would see women who earn higher incomes receiving increased benefits, Palmer said:

Why should Australian citizens and businesses be taxed, and working women discriminated against, just so that the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff can receive a massive benefit when she gets pregnant?

Now, whether you’re in favour of the Government’s paid parental leave scheme or not, whether you’re a supporter of this Government or not (and personally, I’m neither) – this remark cannot reasonably be labelled as anything but sexist.

Clive Palmer has used Peta Credlin to attack the Paid Parental Leave scheme.

Credlin is a formidable person, a calculated political operative and widely regarded as having phenomenal influence over Prime Minister Tony Abbott. But here’s the thing: so do all Chiefs of Staff.

We are talking about the foremost adviser to the most powerful person in our country – of course Credlin has influence. Just as Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd and John Howards’ chiefs of staff had before her.

And to suggest that being female means Credlin is only playing in the PPL policy space for a bit of extra cash for herself, is both laughable and insulting.

Laughable, because Tony Abbott first mooted a change to his stance on paid parental leave in his book Battlelines, which was published before Credlin came to work for him.


And insulting because it suggests Credlin is unable to do her job without being influenced by her gender or the benefit a particular policy may hold for her personally.

And sadly, Clive Palmer’s insult stings all the more painfully when we consider Peta Credlin’s personal reality. The normally very private Credlin, told Marie Claire magazine last year that she had struggled to fall pregnant for some time and that she and her husband had resorted to IVF in their attempts to have a baby.

Peta Credlin has been open about her experience of IVF, and should not be mocked for it.

Now, the politics of Credlin giving that interview aside, most of us know or have loved someone who has desperately wanted a baby and been unable to fall pregnant.

As a community, we’re aware that it is a deeply personal anguish. To have that deep desire to have a child mocked by a member of parliament and splashed all over the media must be hell for Credlin.

The past few years have seen politics become a very sorry state of affairs for Australian women. You can almost hear the click of public service lightbulbs turning off in the minds of schoolgirls across the country – because who would honestly want a job in politics when you’re female?

Credlin deserves better than this; as does every woman politician, staffer and party member.

And as feminists, we shouldn’t be sitting in silence, we should be shouting that from the rooftops.

Editorial Update: Several members of the Labor Party including Opposition Leader Bill Shorten have since come out and condemned Palmer’s comments today. Some feminist commentators have done the same.

Jamila Rizvi formerly worked for both the Rudd and Gillard governments. 

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