Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s comments regarding sexism in the criticism of Peta Credlin has Olivia Gee thinking the PM still doesn’t “get” what sexism is.


Prime Minister Tony Abbott has attempted to deflect criticisms about his chief-of-staff, Peta Credlin, on the basis that the complaints are fuelled, or at least biased, by sexism. A barrage of comments from ministers and backbenchers about Credlin’s supposed authoritarian approach to governmental leadership has prompted Abbott to play the rather nostalgic gender card.

From the man who, in 2012, thought it high time that we “moved on from this gender card,” we now receive a spelling lesson in hypocrisy. Abbott has asked whether his chief-of-staff “would be under this kind of criticism if her name was P-E-T-E-R as opposed to P-E-T-A?” and did not deny that his comments in this morning’s ABC interview were a direct political message to his colleagues.

The attempt by Abbott’s office to “interfere” with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s attendance at the climate talks in Lima appears to have been the catalyst for a resurgence of media attention surrounding criticism of Peta Credlin. The suggested rift between the two prominent women has only added to the depiction of Credlin as a micro-managing warrior woman.

Now, before we put Tony in the naughty corner, let’s ignore Credlin’s genitalia and ask why the chief-of-staff, traditionally a background player, is receiving this level of media attention.

The first idea that pops to mind is that the chief-of-staff is one of the most powerful people in the country and as such should rightly be subjected to political scrutiny.

If only it were that simple.

What is probably more critical is that Peta Credlin, in comparison to her predecessors, is more overtly active and influential in the public eye. The chief-of-staff’s comments about Abbott supporting her 2013 IVF efforts resulted in commentary that was deemed disgusting and unnecessarily personal. Yet discussion about one’s personal life and display of a very close (and perceived overly-influential) relationship with the Prime Minister would have undoubtedly sparked a political fire regardless gender.

The fire blanket of sexism that has been thrown over this more apparent instigation of public and professional criticism won’t save Credlin from superficial wounds. Addressing the concerns of party members with one all encompassing and essentially unfounded response via the media won’t serve Abbott well either.

It’s impossible to say with certainty that if politicians were stripped back to their policies, decisions and attitudes, they would be received in the same manner. Unfortunately, the personal plays a central part in politics and the media will always play on the personal. Peta Credlin, as a strong-willed, powerful woman may be singled out to some extent because of her gender. But singling out her gender as the sole reason for criticisms about her is similarly sexist.

We may as well ask that Tony stop being slammed for his supposed misogyny and winking habits just because his name is spelt T-O-N-Y as opposed to T-O-N-I.


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