Abbott, IVF and me: Peta Credlin speaks out
Peta Credlin has been one of the key figures behind the rise of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Labor has accused Tony Abbott of trying to jack up his standing with female voters after his top adviser, Peta Credlin, gave an unprecedented interview defending her boss against sexism claims and talking about her own IVF treatment.
Ms Credlin, who is Mr Abbott’s chief-of-staff, has taken the unusual step of speaking to women’s magazine Marie Claire, describing her boss as deeply supportive of her efforts to have a child through IVF with her husband, Liberal Party federal director Brian Loughnane.
The Liberal Party research must be showing that Mr Abbott does have a problem with women, and that he is trying to do something about it.Attorney-General Nicola Roxon
This included keeping her fertility drugs in his parliamentary office fridge.
Peta Credlin has revealed a battle to conceive a child through IVF. Photo: Andrew Meares
The normally private Ms Credlin, 41, told the magazine Mr Abbott’s views on abortion, contraception and IVF were far more balanced and nuanced than many people believe.
But Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said the Opposition Leader was clearly trying to fix his image problem with women. Australians would ultimately judge him on his public comments over his nearly two decades in politics, she said.
"Mr Abbott is not a new figure on the public field. He has many years of record to stand by and those are the things that people rightly will judge him on," Ms Roxon said. "I think it’s clear from these sorts of stories that the Liberal Party research must be showing that Mr Abbott does have a problem with women, and that he is trying to do something about it."
However, asked specifically whether Ms Credlin was part of a cynical ploy to win female votes, Ms Roxon said it was up to individuals whether they wanted to tell their personal stories.
In her interview, Ms Credlin says she quizzed Mr Abbott on his views before she agreed to work with him in 2010 and was satisfied with his answers.
According to The Sunday Telegraph, Ms Credlin told Mr Abbott: "I will just never agree with you on abortion. I think you are opposed to it, desperately opposed to it, and you would ban it if you could."
Mr Abbott replied: "Well that's just bullshit. I believe it should be safe legal and rare."
Mr Abbott, who is Catholic, also told her he strongly supported IVF and did not oppose contraception - contrary to what the Opposition Leader described in a weekend column as a "persistent myth".
The latest bid to reassure Australian women about Mr Abbott's attitudes follows the entry of Mr Abbott's wife, Margie, into political debate - she had previously remained largely private throughout Mr Abbott's political career - as well as his sister, Christine Forster.
Chiefs-of-staff and other senior advisers rarely speak on the record to the media, particularly about themselves.
Labor has tried to capitalise on the perception, seeking to portray Mr Abbott as sexist and dismissive of women.
Facing an election against Australia's first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, Mr Abbott has been at pains to dispel impressions he is macho and sexist.
A Nielsen poll from late last year gave Ms Gillard a 15-point lead among women over Mr Abbott. In the same poll, 42 per cent of respondents agreed with the proposition that Mr Abbott was sexist.
Last year, Ms Gillard gave what has become famous as her "misogyny speech", in which she railed against the Opposition Leader's attitudes to women, making headlines around the world and winning widespread applause.
- with Nicole Hasham