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The fault with Credlin and Abbott lies close to home

I do not care if Peta Credlin and Tony Abbott were having sex with each other, unless it was the cause of another broken table and if taxpayers, that is me among millions, had to foot the bill for damage caused.

In addition, I wish Peta Credlin was actually Peter Credlin, because I doubt very much whether anyone would dissect him in quite the same way as they have Peta.

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And furthermore, can we please remember who was actually in charge all this time?

It was Tony Abbott. It was the Liberal/National Coalition. It was not a staffer, no matter how charismatic or powerful that staffer might be. It was the former prime minister who did his absolute best to wreck the country in entirely the same way he is doing his best now to wreck the Turnbull government.

Niki Savva, author of the book, Road to Ruin: How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin Destroyed Their Own Government.
Niki Savva, author of the book, Road to Ruin: How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin Destroyed Their Own Government. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Sorry. I've had this pent-up all weekend as I read snippets from and about Niki Savva's new book The Road To Ruin, a tell-all from former Abbott and Howard staffers. Savva, sensibly, does not pin the blame on Credlin, who may have been personally persuasive but was really a functionary.

Credlin was not the one in charge, people. And how pathetic that members of the government still blame Credlin for their inability to govern.

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Savva, rightly, exposes the very people who blamed Credlin and has done an utterly magnificent job of getting people who've been bled on keeping quiet and staying loyal to spill their guts.

There have been a handful of books about the Abbott catastrophe all with their own insights – but this book does immediately what we usually have to wait ages for. That is, it gets people who are still engaged with the process of government, or could be engaged with the process of government, to say exactly what's on their minds. Usually people like this are still beholden – they fear the repercussions if they tell the truth. Not this time. No queue. No waiting. Just telling it like it is.

As Peter van Onselen, professor of politics at the University of Western Australia and commentator, told me, "It's truly mindboggling that she was able to get this on the record." That's a big compliment from someone who wrote Battleground, with Wayne Errington, on the Abbott months.

But, like me, van Onselen isn't all that fussed about the sex. He thinks Savva mentioned it for fear that since Ruin came out after the others, she might have felt we needed clickbait. Truly, she needn't have worried. I'm obsessed by the actual revelations without even thinking about rumour and innuendo.

After all, has there ever been a prime minister who hasn't been accused of shagging someone other than his/her partner? Not that I can remember. Everyone from No Pants to the Captain and not once has it been proven. The only reason that accusation hasn't come up with the current Prime Minister yet is because no-one can think of a contender. Why would you have anyone on the side if you were a conservative politician and your companion was the smart, lively and capable Lucy Turnbull? She's allowed to be her own person in a way that other political spouses have not. She could probably be prime minister herself.

I asked one long time political staffer what he thought – he says that the fuss about Credlin means it will be nigh impossible for prime ministers to ever have a chief-of-staff with whom an affair might be possible. So definitely no-one of the opposite sex if the PM is straight, no-one who is gay, no 'switch-hitters'.

"That's narrowing very substantially the pool of talent. It will have to be old, bald, fat men like Tony Nutt , Arthur Sinodinos or me so people think, 'There's no chance of any one ever climbing into bed with that'."

There has never been such focus on a chief-of-staff. And maybe that gave people a way out – a way of apportioning blame to the office without having to apportion blame to the person whose fault it all actually was.

I can only think of one other person who experienced this level of scrutiny; and that was former prime minister Julia Gillard, for whom living as the target of gendered insults was a way of life. Everything she did and said, and even things she didn't say and do, were all viewed through the lens of fools who thought women were not up to much. Or if they were up to anything, they were up to no good.

And how amazing that Gillard and Credlin have this in common – that people attack them in this very focused, very personal way, highly gendered way. In Gillard's case, it distracted people from her successes. In Credlin's case, it distracted people from the real problem.

If gender is a distraction in Parliament, I have a solution. Let's get rid of those who use gender and sexual insults for target practice. Let's get rid of those for whom sexual smears are a way of communicating daily.

And remember this. Tony Abbott was a lousy prime minister, not because he was a bloke. But because he couldn't build coalitions. He couldn't get traction.

The buck stops with him. Ensure that this government and those who run it understand that it was Abbott's responsibility. Make him and those who abetted him take that responsibility.

Abbott brought himself down.

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